The must-buy it-gift of this holiday season is the gift that no one else thought of. Here's why:
1. We're done with old-school consumerism.
Consumers are tired of spending their money to keep up with the Joneses. It's clear that our earning power is going down. And most of us feel that we are not going to win in a game of who has the most stuff. Nice evidence of this trend: The size of the average house is plummeting. There's less incentive to buy what everyone else is buying if there is no implied competition.
2. People buy what their friends recommend.
Unlike shopping before the social networks, today shopping is social. This means that people are buying stuff their friends tell them to buy. And they are exchanging this information through social networks.
When you provide information to your friends on a social network, the exchange is one (you) to many (your friends). What you say determines the strength of your social capital. This means that if you can recommend something people haven't heard of, you have higher value to your network than telling them what they already know.
People want to buy things that are special, and they want to tell people about things that are special. The trend started with Generation Y - the customize generation (think Nikes that you design yourself, or Build-A-Bear).
3. Shoppers are aiming for the anti-commodity.
The next stage of customizing is de-commodifying of the shopping experience. Made in China is out. Handmade is in. Everything should be limited supply. The result of the urge to buy non-commodities is the local food movement, artisanal food on Gilt Groupe and the crafter marketplace on Etsy. Pop-up retail stores in NYC are also an example of the excitement that comes with a limited supply.
4. Even kids know a commodity when they see one.
As Nintendo floods the kid market with upgrade after upgrade, boys are searching high and low for the retro-grade GBA games. You can't even play the games on the game systems you get in stores. When your friends ask 'How'd ya get that Pokemon?' It's cool to tell them they'll need a GBA to get it.
And it's cool to tell your friends about an app they don't know. Do you have Angry Birds? Yeah? Me too. End of discussion. The excitement comes when your friend tells you about a game that is fun-but-off-the-beaten-path. Like Oddballz Circus.
The weird thing about social shopping is that sometimes, even if you didn't love the recommendation your friend made, you love that you have friends that seek new and interesting things and tell you about them. Maybe having a friend like that is best gift of all.