How Generation Z Shops

Members of Generation Z were born between 1997 and 2012. The average member of Generation Z was just a kindergartner when Apple launched its first iPhone, and they’re the first generation to grow up in a completely digital age. Gen Z is also the largest, most diverse generation in the history of the U.S., and they’re shaking up retail more than any generation ever before. They hold an estimated $143 billion in spending power and know exactly how they want to use it, so it’s key that your business starts to learn how to reach this generation in meaningful ways before the Zoomers start to leave you behind.














When Facebook launched in 2004, the average member of Generation Z was just two years old. Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Anthony Quintano.

Social Media Shapes Generation Z

Generation Z was the first generation to grow up entirely inundated with technology and social media. The average member of Generation Z received their first smartphone at the age of ten and can’t remember a time without social media.  As a result, shaping how they communicate with the world around them and blurring the lines between their digital and physical worlds. Brands and businesses must recognize that they’re dealing with a generation unlike any other.

Generation Z uses technology as its main means of communication, and social media is the ultimate result of this. While Facebook may have pioneered the idea of a social media platform, Gen Zers are increasingly moving to new platforms that capture their short attention spans with striking visuals like Instagram, Youtube, and Snapchat.

This generation uses social media to communicate not only with friends and family, but also with brands and businesses. Members of Generation Z seek interaction and engagement at every turn and want to feel like businesses are engaging them in their conversations and content. Many members of Generation Z also interact with and research brands on social media before making a physical purchase, meaning that your social media feed needs to reach Gen Z in ways that make them feel involved and heard.

Since Generation Z is always documenting their lives on social media, they’re also hyper-focused on freshness and feel the pressure to always have new things, especially when it comes to clothing. This has led to a rise in two unique forms of shopping which may seem alien to previous generations; clothing rental and resale. 

Members of Gen Z have increasingly turned to clothing rental options like Rent the Runway which allow users to rent luxury clothing for much less than it would cost to purchase. This trend is forcing legacy brands to take notice too. Companies like Express and American Eagle have recently launched clothing rental options to keep up with Gen Z’s taste for affordable freshness.

Meanwhile, Gen Z has been turning to the past to find the next big thing, giving rise to thrifting, boutique shopping, and a thriving resale market. This mode of shopping allows members of Generation Z to find unique pieces that no one else has, and the term “vintage” has now become a buzzword for Gen Z fashion. This trend also aligns with Generation Z’s strong interest in products that are environmentally friendly and affordable at the same time.

Nike is the favorite brand among members of Generation Z due to its strong messaging and authenticity. Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Timidonfire.

What Does Gen Z Want? Value and Authenticity

Generation Z is one of the most fickle shopping generations in history. This generation has grown up in the digital age of fake news and as a result, has learned to see through empty brand promises. Instead, Gen Z looks for transparency and authenticity. Moreso than ever, this Generation wants brands that they feel represent key issues in meaningful ways and not just for show.

Brands that can align themselves with the values of this diverse generation will find much more success than those who cannot or refuse to recognize important issues such as equality and sustainability, and when it comes to this kind of branding, one company has so far beat all the rest, Nike. The U.S. retailer beats out its opponents by far, with 24% of teens citing it as their favorite brand in a Piper Jaffray survey. This can be attributed to the brand’s strong authentic messaging which has stayed consistent and relevant throughout the years and also its stance on important issues like equality and sustainability in fashion.

Value is also incredibly important to members of Generation Z. In a Business Insider survey, 60% of respondents cited price as the biggest factor in making a purchase. This characteristic makes Gen Zers unique in that they’re less likely to have strong brand loyalty and are more likely to purchase based on their needs and price. This is likely a result of Generation Z growing up watching their parents struggle economically throughout the recession, and these memories will likely shape how Gen Z shops for years to come.

In fact, we’ve already mentioned these restructurings in retail earlier when we talked about the upsurge in clothing rental and thrifting, but this search for value has also played out in different ways with the rise of fast fashion and also Gen Z consumers which search for value by purchasing products that may cost more but will last longer. Overall, it is important that your business is able to demonstrate how you can add authentic value for your customers.

While Amazon uses technology to create a unique experience, smaller businesses can still make innovations to appeal to Gen Z. Photo from Flickr user SounderBruce.

Generation Z Shops For The Experience

While many believed that Gen Z would kill brick-and-mortar retail, we’re in fact seeing quite the opposite. An A.T. Kearney study found that 81% of Generation Z respondents preferred shopping at retail stores, but that the reasons they shop are a bit different than that of other Generations, in that Gen Zers shop for the experience.

Often, being constantly connected to social media can feel overwhelming, forcing Generation Z to look for ways to disconnect such as shopping in-person. Over half of respondents to the Kearney study said that they use shopping as a way to disconnect from social media, but it’s important that businesses are able to provide value to these experiences because Generation Z members are also much more likely to not make a purchase after poor customer service and shopping experiences.

Since shopping is an experience for Generation Z, they want to walk into a store and feel like it was created for them. While larger companies like Amazon and retailers like Timberland are looking to technology to create catered experiences like contactless checkout and augmented reality try-on, smaller businesses can still look for ways to make the experience feel personalized. 

One way is to make sure your sales staff is top-notch and accessible. The A.T. Kearney survey noted that 62% of Gen Zers would rather have their questions answered by a store associate than by a display. This means that stores should look to have sales associates that are knowledgeable, authentic, and relatable to Gen Z. In addition, smaller businesses can also look to provide opportunities for Gen Zers to interact with their brand on social media and also in-store through events.

All in all, businesses will find success with Generation Z when they begin to understand how they’ve grown up, what they value, and how they like to shop. When your business begins to focus on these factors, you will start to see more love from the Zoomers than ever before, cementing your brand in the mind of consumers for years to come, and boosting your revenue too!

To learn more about Generation Z and they’re shopping habits, check out these links below:

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