You’ve seen it time and time again: hordes of shoppers lining up overnight to get first dibs on the newest trendy product.
Three weeks ago, people in parts of North America and Europe camped out in malls to buy items from H&M’s Balmain collection, with fights even breaking out in some cities. The same thing happens whenever a new Apple product is released, or in the lead-up to Black Friday.
Are they dedicated or crazy? Either way you spin it, these shoppers garner tons of attention from passersby.
But why do they do it? Are the items they purchase really that important?
For Ryan Seto, a fourth-year business technology management student at Ryerson, the answer is yes.
On Nov. 5, Seto lined up for 10-and-a-half hours at the Eaton Centre for the debut of H&M x Balmain. He also lined up for the H&M and Alexander Wang collection last year.
His reason? Exclusivity.
“Having things that are highly sought after is my main motive,” he said. “I always love getting things first, especially exclusive items. Since all the items in the collaboration are limited pieces, it would make sense to line up and get it before attempting to purchase them at the resale value.”
According to Robert Kozinets, a marketing professor at York University, people like Seto are “early adopters.”
Early adopters tend to embrace new technology or products before the rest of their peers. Others might call them trendsetters.
“They’re the innovators. They want to stay ahead of the curve,” said Mark Lee, a professor at the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management. “They’re the ones who are usually fans, who keep on top of the company or the particular product.
“A lot of that comes from having a need for uniqueness. They want to have items that will enhance their social reputation or social desirability.”
He also pointed out that for retailers, shopping is no longer just about getting the product. Many shoppers camp out so they have interesting anecdotes to share later.
Andrea McDonald, a Ryerson fashion graduate, agrees. Like Seto, she camped out for the H&M and Alexander Wang collaboration and said waiting in line for 11 hours has afforded her some bragging rights.
“It was all about the experience,” said McDonald. “I now have a story to tell, I can admit that I am crazy for waiting outside in the cold for clothes.
“It was freezing, I had comforters, chairs and was interviewed by every radio or news station. It totally elevated my experience, all night I bonded and talked to people who shared similar interests and were equally obsessed with fashion.”
Lee said shoppers befriending others in line is common and sometimes a necessity — you need someone to share food with or hold your spot when you take bathroom breaks. Mostly though, it comes from shared experience.
In an email, Keenan Thompson, a self-proclaimed “Apple fanatic,” said he enjoys the comradery that comes with waiting in line with other like-minded people.
The New York native became a hot topic when he and his friend Jessica Mellow camped out 18 days for an iPhone 4S in 2011.
“Camping out slows the process of instant gratification,” Thompson said. “It had allowed Jessica and I to appreciate what we were buying a lot more than if we were just to get the phone delivered to our doorsteps.”
Seto echoed the sentiment. “I think the reward is much better when you wait for something,” he said. “It makes the struggle of waiting all night worth it.
“Also it gives you a sense of accomplishment, as corny as that seems. It’s like a small win when you get something you want at the end of the day.”