Kokoro Gift Shop in Maplewood, NJ. Photo by Evan Sachs.
You’ve seen the headlines: “Forget Millennials, Gen Z’s Where It’s At,” or “Gen Z — Millennials on Steroids.” So why is this generation causing such a stir in the marketing and retail worlds?
Get this: These Converse- and Jordan-toting teens wield an estimated $44 billion in purchasing power annually, or some say up to $200 billion annually when considering their influence over their parents, according to research by Google YouGov and the Instant Research Group (IRG).
I’m 23, so I’m on the younger side of the millennial generation. But like almost everyone else, I love to shop. The problem is, I can’t afford to shop, nor do I have much spare time. Living in New York City means we’re all go, go, go all the time, with a lot of millennials having two or more jobs.
Basically what I’m saying is, we’ve all gotten lazy in our spare time and do most of our shopping at online stores like Amazon from the comfort of our own overpriced apartments. It is what it is. Convenience is key.
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So imagine my chagrin when I see my 16-year-old cousin hitting up all the best designer stores in Ireland, decked out in Abercrombie, Hollister, and the best of Nike, while I’m scouring Forever 21’s clearance sale, praying for a $2 shirt. Kids these days have no respect for their elders! Man, I feel old.
It’s irritating to see teenagers with no jobs or real responsibilities prancing around in designer clothes and diamond watches, eating gourmet donuts. (Donut shops are an epidemic in Ireland. I’m so confused.) As it happens, I’m less jealous of the labels and more jealous of the time they have to enjoy the experience of shopping.
Millennials vs. Gen Z: Real-World Retail Experiences
Regardless of location, Gen Zers from all over have a keen and intense interest in the real-world experience of shopping, according to a survey conducted by Criteo.
This generation makes up a whopping 23 percent of the U.S. population. That’s around 73 million shopping drones — I mean, kids.
I decided to take a deeper look at this survey, and compare it with my own shopping mentality. While I do not represent all millennials, I think my proximity in age to Gen Z makes it even more surprising how much shopping habits have changed and can change in a few short years.
- As the newest generation of shoppers, Gen Z have significant spending power and influence, especially since technology is a powerful component in how they share knowledge of new products.
- They consult with their friends before making any purchase. In short, they're walking, talking advertising machines.
- Online shopping does not satisfy their needs for touch and instant gratification.
- They are more open to new brands and concepts.
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I feel tired just typing all that. Over a six-month period, Gen Zers spend approximately $307 on consumer electronics, $319 on clothes, and $218 on games and sporting goods both online and offline, according to the Criteo survey.
That doesn’t sound too extreme, but bear in mind that the majority of Gen Zers don’t have their own money just yet. They still rely on the Bank of Mom or Dad. They also don’t have any bills. I wish I had $844 of disposable income to spend on random crap.
Gen Z Shopping Habits and the Internet
No Gen Zer is complete without an array of apps to stay connected to the online world. Fifty-two percent use Snapchat and Instagram, and 55 percent use Facebook, yet only a measly 23 percent use Twitter. This is how I know they are a different species from millennials — Twitter is everything to me. I’m upset by the mere thought that teens don’t like it.
And get this: They stream at least 23 hours of video content per week, according to Criteo. Their parents may be baffled by the sudden need to upgrade cellular data plans, but we know why.
Their love of streaming (Black Mirror, anyone?), coupled with their online interactions, explains the influence product placement and social media personalities can have on them. Personally, I can’t stand the majority of the so-called social media influencers.
I find them to be sellouts and insanely fake — the land of self-appointed experts. Their influence can't be ignored, though, and it shows the power of online marketing with the Gen Z group.
What Do Gen Zers Value in Their Shopping Experiences?
Seventy-one percent are excited by the thought of shopping in-store, and 80 percent love to try new, different stores. But what are they looking for?
- Personalized experiences: They want to feel like their particular needs are being considered.
- Limited-edition merchandise: It’s not fun unless they’re one of the few who owns the product. For example, Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino was available for only one week yet garnered over 180,000 Instagram posts, as well as 20-plus customers visiting each store nationwide daily specifically for the novelty drink, according to Markets Insider.
- Aesthetically pleasing stores: If your store is Instagramable, it’s more attractive to Gen Z and more profitable for you. Chanel opened a pop-up store “Beauty House” on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles with social media specifically in mind. With pearl-filled bathtubs and chic vanity tables, it’s no wonder people are stopping by to add this to their Instagram aesthetic.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Just find out what the kids are into, and market the hell out of it. This level of brand awareness shows an intelligence in Gen Z that will only be cultivated as time goes on.
So What Will They Buy Next?
I asked some real-life Gen Zers what their next most important purchases will be.
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Aoibhinn (pronounced E-veen), 16
Aoibhinn's next biggest purchase will be Gucci sneakers. She spends most of her money on clothes and food.
Mia's next biggest purchase will most likely be sneakers. She spends most of her money on clothes, food, and shoes.
Holly's next biggest purchase will be tickets for a concert and an outfit for it.
She spends most of her money on self-maintenance like nails, eyebrows, hair, and tanning.
Gen Zer Spotlight: Lucy, Cat Enthusiast
I use Instagram to keep up with my friends, and sometimes there are accounts for rescue shelters. I like to look at those to know animals are being rescued and taken care of. On Instagram, I always see ads for water bottles, camping supplies, and tents, but I have no idea why.
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YouTube is great to listen to music. I found some YouTubers because they post about their lives on Instagram: Shane Dawson and Kristen Hancher, for example. I like them; Shane Dawson is funny.
Influencers don’t change my mind, but once I was watching a video of Shane Dawson and BarkBox was sponsoring him and I thought that would be a cool present for my dog Scarlet.
I love SnapChat, but I don’t love the ads. I use Instagram and SnapChat the most because I like the filters.
Millennials vs. Gen Z: The Bottom Line
The older I get, the less I care about brands and labels, meaning that Gen Zers are the shoppers that stores ought to target. They appreciate quality more, have online sharing power beyond my wildest dreams, and seem to shop with a sincerity that I haven’t had in years.
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Walking into a department store stresses me out. I need to have a clear idea of what I’m there to get, and I’m in and out ASAP. I barely even notice the aesthetic of the store. Shopping is a chore for me, but Gen Z uses it as a social experience as well as a retail one.
Now you know. Gen Z is where it’s at. I feel too old to mind.