Oxford Dictionaries made “selfie” the word of the year in 2013. U.S. consumers responded by making the selfie stick the gift of the year in 2014.
Around the U.S. this holiday season, camera shops, department stores and pharmacies have been having a hard time keeping up with demand for the selfie stick, a retractable pole that people clamp onto their smartphones to take better pictures of themselves.
Nordstrom Inc., which carried the Selfie On A Stick model in 118 stores starting in late November, said it had to reorder the item twice before Christmas and is currently sold out. ProMaster, which supplies camera accessories to 500 U.S. stores, said it had to keep re-ordering selfie sticks after running out of stock. On Dec. 25, the hashtag #selfiestick dominated Twitter, as gift-receivers posted pictures of themselves with the gadgets, which typically sell for $10 to $30.
“We basically couldn’t keep them in stock,” said Jirair Christianian, owner of Mike’s Camera, a 12-store chain based in Boulder, Colorado. “People are taking a lot of selfies these days. The selfie stick makes it easy and makes it fun.”
The holiday craze adds to evidence that selfies -- photos taken of oneself and shared on social-media sites like Facebook Inc.’s Instagram -- have gone mainstream, even with a lingering stigma that the practice is best left to reality TV stars like Kim Kardashian. In April, President Barack Obama endorsed selfies by snapping one of himself and Vice President Joe Biden in the back of a limo while traveling in Pennsylvania.
Hundreds of thousands of selfie sticks have likely sold in the U.S. since this summer, including about 100,000 in December alone, though there’s no official tally since the products are so new to market, said Andy Brennan, an analyst at researcher IBISWorld. The items became popular in camera shops over the summer and demand intensified around Thanksgiving after Time magazine named the selfie stick one of the best inventions of the year.
“It was one of the most popular Christmas gifts this year,” said Brennan, who added that drugstores including Walgreen Co.’s Duane Reade had trouble stocking the gadgets. “Every retailer I spoke with about selfie sticks sold out and had to resupply.”
A representative for Walgreen didn’t return a call for comment.
One of those who grabbed a selfie stick for the holidays this year was Caroline DiMauro, who was in line at a Walgreen store just a few days before Christmas in Cincinnati when she picked up the gift last minute.
“I was ecstatic when I saw it,” DiMauro said. “I had just overheard my daughter talking about how it was one of the latest hot gadgets.”
Various manufacturers make selfie sticks, which are technically called extendable monopods. Some of the products include Bluetooth remotes that trigger the camera. Others require the user to set a timer on their smartphone to take the shot. Many of the sticks can unfold as long as about 4 feet (1.2 meters).
The technology has raised some eyebrows. Concerned that Bluetooth remotes on selfie sticks could interfere with other devices, South Korea’s Ministry of Science banned the sale of unregulated selfie sticks in November, threatening fines and imprisonment for those breaking the law.
The popularity of the devices throws some camera stores -- which are experiencing declining sales of point-and-click digital cameras as people increasingly use smartphones to snap pictures -- a lifeline of sorts. With selfie sticks, camera shops can offset lost sales by selling accessories to the growing ranks of smartphone photographers.
“The smartphone has helped introduce photography to a whole lot of people who may not have been exposed to it,” said Richard Bright, director of sales at ProMaster in Fairfield, Connecticut, which offers the ProMaster Selfie Stick. “Camera shops are certainly embracing the rise of the smartphone. They’d be foolish not to.”
Selfie sticks are more than for just vanity shots of oneself. Photographers can use the pole to extend their reach, getting more friends and family members in a shot or including more sights in the background. Beyond selfies, the stick can help people get interesting camera angles or be used as a microphone boom arm.
“It’s not just about shooting your eight closest friends at arms length,” said Mike Worswick, owner of Wolfe’s Camera in Topeka, Kansas, who added that selfie sticks were the best-selling device this month. “It has some useful applications that go beyond the obvious.”
DiMauro, the resident of Cincinnati, ended up giving the selfie stick she bought at Walgreen to her 13-year-old daughter, Isabella. Isabella said she plans to use the gadget to make YouTube videos with her brother Sam, 11, and sister Francie, 8.
“I’ve seen them on the Internet, so it’s kind of cool to have it now,” Isabella said.