retail industry

Gen Z: The Future of Retail

Instagram influencers. Artificial intelligence. Gender fluidity. The #MeToo movement. Generation Z was born between 1995-2004 and currently represents the largest demographic in the world – the oldest are entering the workforce, while the youngest are completing primary school. Between the ages of 16 – 22, they are highly educated digital natives that compose 33% of the global population, with 2.5 billion members worldwide (Gartner, 2018). Together, they represent $44 billion in direct buying power, and will compose 40% of the global consumer market by 2020 (Adweek, 2017). This diverse, self-aware, and ambitious generation values personalization and individualization in its search for purpose. Within the retail sector, it is drawn to immersive and unique experiences. However, used to immediate gratification, Gen Z will walk if stores don’t meet their demanding expectations. How can retailers attract and retain the loyalty of this critical consumer group?


More than anything, Gen Z values accessibility and convenience. Growing up in a Google saturated world where the answer to any question is available in 0.3 seconds, they expect the majority of their needs to be met according to this immediate gratification framework. As a result, they have little patience for delays due to a lack of innovation. Last year, IBM conducted a global survey of 15,600 Generation Z members between the ages of 13-21 from six continents. Their results revealed that 49% valued the ability to find what they needed quickly, 41% valued access to the best deals, 36% valued speedy shopping and checkout, and only 28% valued high-quality customer service. In essence, Gen Z is looking for an efficient retail experience that allows them to complete their shopping as quickly as possible.

Along with the expectations of an accessible, cohesive retail experience, they also value sustainability initiatives, diversity and inclusion, and immersive experiences. Gen Z is characterized by cultural sensitivity and political correctness. They have grown up in a time where an African American president is the norm, LGBTQ communities are common, and the glass ceiling has shattered. While millennials simply looked for the cheapest deal, Gen Z members are often willing to pay extra to support sustainability, increase awareness, and champion human rights.


Similarly, retailers cannot ignore Gen Z’s propensity for social media – an untapped market area. IBM’s survey revealed that 73% use their phones for social media, with 39% claiming that it was important or very important that brands connect with them on these digital platforms. Growing up with smartphones is one reason that Gen Z members are enormous multitaskers – constantly plugged in by hopping between apps, they expect stores to accept contactless payment and provide a seamless transition between their websites and brick-and-mortar locations. In other words, if a Gen Z has a pair of pants in their digital shopping cart, they expect to find the same pair easily in a store.

How can retailers meet these needs? Many brands such as Primark and Topshop are currently incorporating beauty bars and coffee shops to provide a unique, one-stop-meets-all feel. Pop-ups are also popular for their immersive, innovative designs and limited time novelty that appeals to Gen Z’s love for trends and fast fashion. Ted Baker recently launched a pop-up for his “Color by Numbers” collection in Shoreditch. It included ChromaYoga sessions (a style of yoga that integrates light and color therapy), a nail bar, and interactive events with fashion bloggers and stylists – offering a memorable, one-of-a-kind retail experience.

Ted Baker’s Colour By Numbers pop-up in Shoreditch, London

Regarding technological integration, retailers should consider arming their staff with mobile devices that allow for checkout anywhere on the floor, providing an accessible and convenient point of sale. GAP Inc. currently does this, preventing long queues and allowing customers to purchase from fitting rooms. Considering that smartphones have become a necessity akin to wallets, stores should also offer charging stations and WiFi hotspots. The modern version of loyalty programs can be found in mobile apps that accumulate points, allow digital purchases, and advertise new products. As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to evolve, we can expect it to take over many administrative retail tasks, such as spotting gaps on shelves, updating shelf labels, and searching the warehouse for customer requests. Incorporating this new technology will free sales associates to spend more time engaging with clients and providing greater service.


Finally, in order to reach and retain this younger generation, stores must establish vibrant social media presences. Gen Z is more likely to read their daily news on Snapchat than any mainstream news outlet, and they spend an average of three hours on social media every day (Global Web Index). Instagram recently provided an update that allows consumers to purchase from brands like Nike, H&M, and Michael Kors without leaving the app. To keep a finger on Gen Z’s pulse, retailers must immerse themselves in this social media saturated society, learning the language of memes and young adult jargon. Many online retailers are recruiting Gen Z members as “brand ambassadors” – paying them to promote products on their social media platforms, which generates enormous niche exposure and drives sales. Established retailers can continue using celebrity ambassadors, but should also consider incorporating social media “influencers” into their marketing strategies.

Generation Z is full of vocal, innovative, and efficient youth that are constantly looking to create unique experiences and make the world a better place. They have higher expectations and less patience for retail, making it extremely difficult to retain their brand loyalty. To avoid irrelevancy, retailers must increase convenience and accessibility in stores and online by incorporating new technology and embracing the digital marketing world. Adopting the speed and innovation that characterizes this rising generation is the only way for retailers to establish and maintain their legacies.




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