What Gen Z Consumers Are Looking For

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Gen Z consumers are a hot topic in retail right now—brands are constantly looking to better understand Gen Z’s shopping habits, trends, and the best ways to connect with them as customers. Read on to learn from a CommerceNext Gen Z intern what topics concern Gen Z customers, along with how brands can market to them and employ them successfully.


1. What’s Shaped Gen Z


Gen Zers have grown up in the internet age, and most would likely have difficulty remembering a time when the entirety of the information of the world wasn’t easily available at their fingertips. While this shift in youth upbringing has its pros and cons, it is undeniable that those born into Gen Z experience the world on a more global scale. They’ve been continually inundated with content, advertising and media throughout their formative years.

As social media booms and the metaverse looms, we see a further blurring of the line between one’s “real-life” identity and one’s “online” persona. For many, online interactions can be as real and substantive as the physical world. According to a study conducted by Squarespace, 60% of Gen Zers feel that how you present yourself online is more important than how you conduct yourself in person compared to less than 30% of Baby Boomers. The influence of the virtual world ultimately is that it provides everyone with the space to connect with like-minded individuals. This is partially why we’re seeing a proliferation of variety in fashion styles and music tastes. Eighty percent of Gen Zers feel like they were born in the wrong musical era and, in response to this, they’re finding the artists and styles and communities both IRL and in the digital space that feel right to them. Because of the empowering effects of digital reach, individuality is becoming the new “pop.”


2. Importance of Sustainability


From this new level of global consciousness, Gen Z comes with a new level of cultural empathy and political consciousness. Studies show that Gen Z is the most engaged generation in climate change activism. Nearly 70% of Gen Zers express anxiety about the future of the planet, compared to older generations such as 41% of baby boomers. Gen Z shoppers believes in the importance of corporate social responsibility and will place more emphasis on sustainability when making purchasing decisions than any prior generation. It is becoming a non-negotiable to this demographic that, moving forward, we understand the impact of sustainable choices in business, both in a climate change framework and a human rights framework.


3. Attracting the Gen Z Consumer


Gen Z loves memes. Perhaps the most baffling element of the youth culture to the non-internet-native generations is the seemingly nonsensical and absurd humor present in the Gen Z digital space. Overloaded with content practically from their first conscious thought, a large portion of Gen Z has an almost nihilistic outlook. There are too many issues to care about, and access to a plethora of online perspectives breeds contradictions. The relentless streams and feeds of tragic news become so overwhelming that often humor and numbness are the only feasible responses. The humor of the generation follows suit, no longer seeming to follow any conventional rules of comedy and dark humor is on the rise.

Despite such pessimism, Gen Z consumers are committed to the idea of a more humane market and supports companies that do so. The pessimism of the generation though seeds doubt about the authenticity of a company’s social responsibility efforts. If a company does an Earth Day campaign but leads its industry in greenhouse gas emissions Gen Zers will make this hypocrisy known online. It’s more important than ever for you to find your brands’ voice to know your values and communicate that clearly. In a sea of voices, Gen Z’ers are seeking out their crowd as they refine their own identities and inauthentic copies; they can tell if your brand is being performative or fake.

Funny but not funny haha. Funny weird

Let’s look at some examples of brands that have combined social responsibility with authenticity. First, we have Bombas, this year’s Commercenextys Most Impactful Social Responsibility Campaign winner. Ahead of last year’s Pride month, Bombas launched a dedicated line celebrating the diverse experiences, stories, and intersectionalities within the LGBTQ+ community. For every Pride item purchased, an item was donated to someone in need within the LGBTQ+ community through three Giving Partners to individuals within this marginalized population who are also at-risk or experiencing homelessness. The effort is not only tying the brand to the community by building products carrying those stories, but it’s also making a practical impact by building a revenue-sharing donation model into the campaign.  Here, Bombas aligns its business model and incentives with LBGTQ+ advancement. Any company willing to do this alignment internally and externally is legit.


A perfect example of corporate social responsibility gone wrong is Pepsi’s Superbowl ad in 2017. The ad came in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests following the murders of Deborah Danner, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. Pepsi reprised protest imagery and a famous scene from the protests swapping out a woman who chained herself in front of the police as a call for peace with Kendall Jenner handing the cop a Pepsi and soving the problem. The campaign was tone deaf and trivialized the issue. It brought up a culturally relevant and sensitive issue for the sake of selling more product during primetime on the biggest stage. There was no mechanism by which the ad would make a practical impact related to the issue. There was no effort to tell the story of the protests or the issue at hand, merely their own narrative. There was no actual responsibility to this ad outside of to shareholders and it deserved its failure. 


4. Branding For Gen Z Loyalty

Gen Z consumers exhibit lower brand name loyalty than previous generations, preferring brands that champion the aforementioned social and environmental sustainability values. In addition, they’re searching for high-quality products and responsive customer service. When a brand does actually resonate with members of Gen Z, they are even more likely than prior generations to actively engage with that brand–only in a way that feels authentic. Given their increased engagement with the internet online retailers are navigating how to ecommerce platforms are specifically attracted to the generation and efforts to attract Gen Z shoppers abound.  


The internet is rife with advertisements and misinformation though, so Gen Z’ers are unlikely to take a single recommendation or advertisement at face value. Instead, they choose brands that display authenticity and consistent quality rather than following the brand reputation exclusively. This means that word-of-mouth continues to be strong as ever for these consumers. 


5. Employing Gen Z Workers 


A majority of Gen Zers entering the workforce show concerns for their mental health and wellbeing, a phenomenon which has only been exacerbated by the recent Covid pandemic. Data shows 69% of Gen Z’ers feel the pressure of being unable to meet basic food needs since the start of the pandemic, with many also holding rather pessimistic views of the future. Over 50% of respondents feel that life will not improve and may even become worse for future generations. 


While these statistics understandably paint a picture of a grim future and a dark cloud hanging over this generation, they also offer a clear solution in terms of attracting Gen Z workers. Almost two-thirds of Gen Z respondents feel that it is extremely important to work with a company sharing their values around sustainability and/or social responsibility. In order to attract and retain workers from this youthful talent pool, companies should offer a competitive wage that would allow them to live comfortably above their means and escape the food concerns which have been worsened by the pandemic. Clear raise structures and company focus which align with the generation’s values would also incentivize workers to stay loyal to companies rather than seek employment elsewhere as building wealth is still a central goal for the generation. 


Learning how to create messages that resonate with Gen Z consumers’ attitudes and preferences will be even more essential as they come to dominate more of that 35-64 year old age bracket that spends the highest on average. Additionally, Gen Z will eventually take their turn at the wheel, occupying the majority of leadership positions someday. Stay tuned in and join the conversation happening online to learn more about and engage with Gen Z. And remember, be authentic–whatever that means for you.


If you’re still curious and want to learn more about how to engage with Gen Z consumers check out some of our conference content on Youtube. Jamie Gersch and Craig Brommers both did sessions where they explored the game-changing ways their brands are tracking Gen Z retail trends and doing outreach: ​​https://www.youtube.com/commercenext