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Gen Z: Shopping Habits of Digital Natives

The past two years have had a dramatic impact on consumer behavior triggering new cultural phenomena like pandemic exhaustion, digital inspiration and ethical online shopping forcing brands to find ways to quickly adapt to the ever-changing dynamics. And never has there been a bigger marketing challenge than today’s Gen Z population.

As a generation born at the end of the last millennium, digital living has been ingrained in their daily lives from a young age. As digital natives, Gen Z spend more than eight hours online each day, with the majority spending more than five hours on their smart phone alone. Brands must find new and original ways to engage this demographic that either connects with them through digital mediums or provides an offline experience worth sharing with friends.

Empathy is the key to connecting with Gen Z

To reach Gen Z, authenticity becomes the name of the game. A brand cannot utilize empathy, inclusivity, or sustainability to effectively market towards Gen Z without actions that entirely reflect the messages being put out. Now, as the generation is quickly rising to become the largest buying power in the U.S., brands are obsessively targeting the group to tap into those pockets, but for many they fail to connect in a meaningful way.

Gen Z is the generation of empathy; the kids who grew up in a recession and came of age during the pandemic. They won’t purchase a product, or seek a job, from a company with values that don’t align with their own. And they can spot the bullshit a mile away – so what exactly do they value?

Gen Z already has a collective buying power that is nearing $150 billion and represents the largest growing opportunity for brands to understand their unique shopping and buying behaviors. This report will explore new ways to effectively market to the largest buying power in the world: Gen Z.

The stores are alive with the sound of smartphones

Convenience may be king for 56% of Gen Z men who shop online from the comfort of their own environment at least once a week, but 62% of men reported that they choose to visit brick and mortar stores on a weekly basis – disproving the narrative that the high street is dead. For women this is also clear, with 48% shopping online weekly, and 54% shopping in person.

Overall, 65% of Gen Z respondents choose to shop in store, with 81% of people saying they go shopping more than once a month. 48% of people will browse online before committing to a purchase, but for many, the in-store experience is more of a draw than online convenience: the ability to try on clothes for size; feel the quality of an item of furniture; enjoy the sensory experience of shopping; or simply to experience the atmosphere of a store can impact the purchasing decision.

Representation matters: actions speak louder than words

It probably comes as no surprise that Caucasian respondents are the most comfortable shopping in store – with 31% preferring to shop solely online, and 69% opting for a mix of both online and in-store. 40% of African-American respondents prefer online shopping to in-store, 38% of Asian respondents prefer shopping online, and 36% of Hispanic respondents prefer it.

There are many factors that could impact the decision to shop online versus in-store: from the logistical factors of transport and access – to social influence, cultural expectations, and racial representation. Gen Z are immune to the lip service of promises and goals to promote racial diversity through employment and leadership when many bigger issues affect society as a whole.

For brands, this means neutrality is no longer an option. For 81% of respondents, it is important that the brand is trustworthy, for 82%, it is important to them that the brands they use care about their customers, and for 83%, it is important that they are honest.

The impact of the environment vs on the environment

Many brands have come under fire for their poor treatment of employees through the COVID pandemic – and while the virus had a detrimental impact on many businesses, demonstrating empathy to employees is a sure fire way to win the continued business of Gen Z customers.

The emphasis on equity, equality, and fair treatment have been heightened in recent years, with 51% of Gen Z respondents highlighting diversity and inclusion as very important factors in brand acceptance – this compared to 34% of users who felt that the environmental impact of the brand was very important is indicative of changing priorities.

This is an interesting observation as a recent survey suggested Gen Z consumers were willing to spend up to 10% more for sustainable brands , demonstrating a continued commitment to sustainability. However, these recent results suggest that environmentalism is less of a preferred brand value, and more of an expectation.

Shopping is a social event

68% of women prefer to visit shops with friends or family and 71% will post about their purchases on social media. Successful brands understand how to leverage the social and shareable aspect of their shops, from the customer experience in store, to refining the look and feel of the space. Installing flattering lighting in changing rooms, creating visually stimulating environments, and including well-placed branding will ensure your store gets its spot in the limelight on Gen Z’s social feeds.

For Gen Z men, the statistics demonstrate more solitary habits, with 40% of men prefer to shop solo, with 68% saying they never – or rarely – shared images of their purchases on social media.

Inspired by Instagram

The leading source of fashion inspiration for Gen Z is Instagram at 35% of respondents, while 27% took inspiration from Tik Tok – a platform made up of 60% Gen Z users – and coming in at third is Pinterest at 18%. Facebook and YouTube are tied for fourth, inspiring only 7% of respondents – an unsurprising result as Facebook usage 12-34 year-olds fell from 48% in 2017 to just 29% in 2019 .

While many may take guidance from friends or family online, 76% of Gen Z customers follow at least one influencer on social media and 45% follow more than 10, and 56% of people are more likely to try a product that their favorite influencer has recommended .

Instagram remains the most popular touchpoint for brand advertising as 42% of Gen Z consumers would choose to follow a brand on Instagram over other social media platforms – but the content must be authentic and engaging.

Experience is more than a feeling

For Gen Z consumers, the brand experience has many touchpoints – the in-store experience, digital engagement, and overall brand authenticity all have a part to play in Gen Z brand acceptance.

For online shopping, the experience must be seamless and convenient, with an easy-to-navigate website, clear visuals and descriptions, and a straightforward purchasing process. 42% of users would abort an online shop on a badly designed or slow website.

The leading driver for brand loyalty among Gen Z consumers is trust and reputation. The overall purchasing experience comes in second, proving that while attitudes toward brand behaviors may have changed over the years, the expectation of good service and good products remains the same.

With convenience and care drawing for third place, a brand that is authentic, fair, considerate and convenient is going to win the hearts and minds of this generation.