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From Ordinary Shopper To Celebrity, Overnight

Audrey McClelland is in her element hunting for a bargain at Old Navy. She selects a pair of fleece pants with blue and green stripes, on sale for $8.

"I always go into the store with at least a mindset of what I'm looking for," she says. "And today it's all about the pajamas."

McClelland left a career in fashion to raise four young sons. When she gets home from her shopping trip, she will make a video about what she bought and post it on her blog -- momgenerations.com -- and on YouTube.

McClelland is a shopping hauler. Kate Rose of Google says its one of the fastest growing trends on YouTube.

Searches for the term "shopping haul" were up 150 percent at least as of November of this year. As far as the number of videos, the last count that we had was a little over 200,000 haul videos. So a lot of people are getting involved.

Blair Fowler, a teenager from Tennessee, who along with her older sister Elle, is an icon of fashion hauling. In one video, she sits in on bed framed in medium close-up and shows off a new dress.

"And it's black, it's scoop neck and it has this really cute beaded design," she says. "But it's just a simple black dress and I got this because it's gonna be good especially with the holidays coming around – ex-specially, I know it's especially – I was raised to say especially, so that's what I'm gonna say."

Believe it or not, the video has gotten nearly a million views in just a few months on YouTube. Numbers like that caught the attention of Good Morning America, and recently there has even been talk of a reality TV show. Apparel chains like Forever 21 and TJ Maxx have also taken notice, offering gift cards, video contests and other incentives to the Fowler sisters and other haulers.

Elaine Notarantonio, a professor of marketing at the Bryant University School of Business, says there's no doubt hauling can help companies generate buzz.

"Consumer engagement is sort of the new hot strategy among marketers," she says.

But there can be a downside if haulers are perceived as being in the company's pockets.

"Companies who do this -- who provide gift cards or free merchandise to haulers --need to be aware of the potential downfalls, and what it could do to their image," Notarantonio says. "It could jeopardize their image."

Blogger Audrey McClelland insists that she is true to her own opinion in her hauling videos, which focus on fashion advice for budget conscious moms. But she has used her videos and her blog to land paid spokesperson gigs for Tide and Staples. She also writes for Lifetime and TJ Maxx websites. When her husband was laid off in September, McClelland hired him to work for her.

Copyright 2020 The Public's Radio. To see more, visit The Public's Radio.

Elisabeth Harrison