By Tanvi Kanchan
A video of a young girl in Mumbai grinning widely at the camera in her quaintly decorated bedroom, while excitedly dressing up in and showing off her most recent purchase – a full length dress that she got at a bargain of only Rs 300 – talks about each dress she’s picked up, and as she pouts, laughs and twirls in front of the camera. This video has been watched 76,000 times.
This is the first impression I got from watching one of model turned vlogger Scherezade Shroff’s more popular videos, her ‘haul’ from Sarojini Nagar. Shroff’s video belongs to that chic YouTube genre of haul videos. In case you were wondering, a haul video is one that features a person baring the contents of their recently procured shopping bags to anyone with an internet connection, potentially millions of viewers who join in on this community experience of being excited about a stranger’s purchases. If you’re imagining videos of women in front of webcams while modelling their newest loot from the most recent neighbourhood sale, you’re pretty much on the money.
Haul videos are not a recent phenomenon. They’re been around since around the late 2000s and is a format that has amassed a huge, dedicated fan following (and now even a revenue model). They’ve only recently become popular in India – as of right now, however, there seem to be only female vloggers doing them in the country. Channels like those of Scherezade Shroff (90k+ subscribers), sjlovesjewelry (85k+ subscribers) and Delhifashionblogger (39k+ subscribers), some of the more popular fashion channels in India, put up haul videos which get anywhere from 11,000 to 76,000 views. Some videos are more serious, solemnly reviewing products purchased. Other haulers (like Shroff) exude a vibe of “this is so much fun, guys,” with an audience only more than eager to join in.
I get where the impulse comes from – I too am guilty of conducting intense post-mortems of my purchases with family or friends, later returning the favour for them too. After you watch a haul video or two, doing it with people online seems like a natural evolution of this need to examine shopping choices (after we’ve made them). And as someone who also personally loves buying new clothes but hates the actual First World Problem Of The Ordeal of Shopping (i.e. looking through stores while tired, sweaty, and generally irritable) I like the voyeuristic entertainment of joining on someone else’s shopping experience, without making any commitments or any purchases. It’s a dense, bite-sized version with all the pleasures of window-shopping while lying on my couch at home.
Haul videos are a pretty decent way to keep an eye on current fashion trends and reviews of products – if you’re into it. Haulers get plenty of messages from viewers fervently asking for details about where they got something. A lot like that family member who’s always asking you about where you bought that t-shirt or pair of shoes and how much you paid for it, after staring intensely at you from across the room at a family function.
“The majority of my haul videos is kind of sharing what I buy organically,” says 29 year old model and fashion vlogger Scherezade Shroff. Shroff was a model for ten years before actively vlogging, and used to write a blog merely as a passion. Self-admittedly, she was never a great writer – until finally, she was approached by a network to video blog about fashion, where she discovered a better format that was more “her”, and also commercially viable. She’s now been running her own YouTube channel for three years. “My Sarojini Nagar hauls became really popular. I had a lot of people asking me where I bought my clothes. I just felt like if I’m doing this, I should kind of share it in the haul format.” Contemplating the popularity of her own videos she says, “I guess it’s also a bit of vicarious living where people enjoy the excitement of shopping with another person. It’s as good as you feeling like, let’s see what they got. I don’t think a lot of times it translates into people actually going and buying the same thing, I don’t think that really happens. But I do know that they enjoy watching what someone else has bought.” Like me.
Of course, it follows that haul videos are also a very fertile marketing field. You start following a channel, you strike a connection with the vlogger and their videos, and could potentially decide to emulate their style. 25-year-old Delhi-based Komal Narang who runs the fashion channel Myhappinesz says that it’s very important for her to do honest reviews because of the sense of responsibility she feels towards her following and the community building (nearly 35k subcribers) that follows, a lot of whom contact her with messages of thanks or questions about her purchases. “I feel my audience relates to it a lot more because my agenda is more about showing off things that I like personally.” Narang thinks her audience values her opinion because they also see her diss products and brands that don’t meet her standards.
There’s a whole host of Indian fashion channels that do jewellery hauls, makeup and skincare hauls, and clothes and accessory hauls. So far these hauls are esoteric enough and not yet focused only on big brands. You’d be hard pressed to actually track down some of the items for yourself. Confirming for me that this is more a sharing thing than a shopping thing.
A friend confessed to me that she watches haul videos in cases of “extreme TP”, as she termed it – not for any real suggestions but just for the fun of seeing the sort of stuff that exists to be bought. She mostly watches haul videos of stationery. So there’s that.
Co-published with Firstpost.