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Influencers Could Play a New Role in Commerce, Thanks to Generation Alpha

The role of influencers in fashion retail might soon morph into a whole new reality.

Social media personalities have supplemented—or supplanted—traditional media like splashy billboards and television ads in competing for consumers’ attention, and fashion brands have responded by cozying up to these new purveyors of influence. A Nordstrom capsule designed by popular fashion blogger Arielle Charnas, aka @SomethingNavy, notoriously crashed the department store’s e-commerce website on launch day, thanks to legions of followers hoping to score the 32-year-old’s trend-led looks.

Even Amazon has harnessed the power of the influencer through The Drop, which taps a rotating cast of social celebs like YouTube star Patricia Bright to design clothing capsules sold for just 30 hours before factory partners manufacture orders according to demand, virtually eliminating inventory waste.

Now, a new report indicates that a rising generation of consumers might want to sidestep the retail middleman altogether and buy directly from their favorite influencers directly.

Fourteen percent of Generation Alpha—the diaper-clad-or-school-aged cohort nipping at Gen Z’s digitally savvy, eco-aware heels—expressed an interest in purchasing goods from influential personalities, according to the Futures 2020 report published by global digital agency Wunderman Thomspon Commerce. And more than half (55 percent) of this demographic, born between 2010 and 2025, would be swayed to purchase a product that’s received the seal of approval from their beloved Instagram and YouTube content creators, or an item these digital celebs actually use themselves.

“So strong is the pull of these online stars that young consumers want to purchase products endorsed and made by them, from their very own stores,” Hugh Fletcher, the agency’s head of thought leadership (EMEA) and UK marketing, wrote in the report. He cited YouTube channel owners Marques Brownlee (aka @MKBHD, 10 million followers) and Linus Tech Tips (10 million followers), a team of “professionally curious” consumer tech experts, as driving the trend toward influencer-led retail with their own, dedicated merch stores.

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If this is how kids born to millennial parents truly will be acquiring goods in the not-so-distant future, then a retail sector already in turmoil will face new expectations and even more crowded competition—which the consultancy believes could be a potentially promising opportunity.

Expect to see the larger forces in digital retail—like Amazon, Alibaba, Macy’s or maybe even eBay, perhaps—white-labeling e-commerce sites run by influencers, or even on taking on commerce operations for these personalities, the agency said, putting a fresh spin on social commerce.

Hoping the influencer trend might die out and disappear probably amounts to little more than wishful thinking, according to Wunderman Thompson Commerce. The movement toward a deeper and more nuanced relationship between retail and content creators, the report said, is only “at the beginning.”