Inside the mind of Generation Z

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Millennials are old news; get ready for the next wave of consumers

Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15

By Jenna Lippin

As the industry finally catches up with millennials, or Generation Y, a new problem presents itself when it comes to pinpointing the shopping habits of current and future consumers: Generation Z.

Yes, that’s right: Generation Z. (What happens now that we’ve run out of letters?) This group of young people encompasses those born after millennials who are, according to Alex Williams of The New York Times, “the next big thing for marketing researchers, cultural observers and trend forecasters.” The group consists of approximately 60 million Americans, outnumbering millennials by nearly one million.

Today the majority of Generation Z is made up of teens and tweens (those in between childhood and teenage years); some categorize the group born anywhere from the early 1990s to the mid 2000s, while others carve out the 15-year block starting in 1996, making them 5 to 19 years old today. However it is calculated, Generation Z will rapidly approach the buying age that retailers will have to focus on. As Williams put it, these kids are “primed to become the dominant youth influencers of tomorrow” with “billions in spending power.” In fact, Women’s Wear Daily declared Generation Z “the next big retail disrupter.”

So what differentiates Generation Z from Generation Y? While technology seems to be the main factor that separates young Americans from baby boomers, the degree to which the youth of today uses devices like iPads, smartphones and computers is what’s important. The key here is that Generation Z is the first generation to be born and raised in this era. They don’t remember a time before social media and iPhones. Attention spans are even shorter today and instant gratification needs to be delivered in, well, less than an instant.

Dan Scawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, told the Times, “[W]e tell our advertising partners that if they don’t communicate in five words and a big picture, they will not reach [Generation Z].”

Another interesting point to consider when trying to reach Generation Z is the group to which their parents belong. As members of Generation X, the moms and dads of the next wave of shoppers “have tried to give their children the safe, secure childhood they never had,” explained Neil Howe, economist and co-author of several books about American generations. Part of this concern for safety comes from the traumatic national and global events that occurred during these generations’ formative years.

Overall, Generation Z is more concerned about safety, privacy and a stable future/ career. According to marketing firm Sparks & Honey, which gathered information for its presentation “Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials,” one in two Generation Zers will be college educated compared to one in three millennials and one in four Gen Xers. But their educated opinions are already making a difference—32% of moms feel their Gen Z children are influential when purchasing home furnishings.

Those members of Gen Z who are old enough to shop on their own often choose online stores vs. brick-and-mortar locations. Fifty-seven percent of Gen Zers buy fashion accessories online, 60% sports equipment, 55% clothes—the point is clear. This likely goes back to the 8-second average American attention span, which is down from 12 seconds in 2000.

As Generation Z comes of age, brands need to appeal to this group fast. Social media and digital advertising will still be the focus but on a more widespread basis. According to Julia Glum’s article on the International Business Times website, “Marketing To Generation Z: Millennials Move Aside As Brands Shift To Focus Under-18 Customer,” Gen Zers use five screens: smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop and iPod. She suggests marketers spread their stories across these devices. “Gen Z is increasingly tech-savvy and has no problem getting information from multiple sources.”

Growing up either during the Great Recession or when people were trying to bounce back from the downturn, Generation Z’s buying habits reflect resourcefulness and an entrepreneurial sprit. According to Sparks & Honey, nearly 75% of high school students surveyed said they want to eventually start their own businesses.

“You’re not going to be marketing to them, you’re going to be co-creating with them,” said Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast, a millennial marketing consultancy in Kansas City, Mo., and co-author of “Marketing to Millennials.” “This market wants to be treated as a consumer who’s a partner, not as a target audience.” Therefore, these shoppers prefer companies that are socially conscious and transparent. Company values will play a role in Gen Z’s buying habits when two comparable products cost the same.

One similarity between Gen Y and Gen Z is the disregard for “proper” order in life events— they don’t necessarily go to college then get married and then have kids. According to Fromm, this has a potential effect on buying habits as items relating to an experience are bought after they occur, not before.

Whether there are Gen Z members in your family or not, it’s time to get familiar with their tastes, habits and opinions. They will be showing up in stores sooner than expected.

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