Earning and Retaining the Gen Z Buyer: 3 Ways Reaching Gen Z Is Different

Every new generation brings different ways of thinking, which translates into new ways to do everything, from working to eating to shopping. Gen Z, the newest generation to reach adulthood, is no exception.

Gen Z may not be at the age yet where they're in your target demographic, but they will be soon. It’s important to understand what motivates Gen Z buyers and how they’re already changing the face of retail.

While this generation shares some characteristics with Millennials, there are a few ways they stand out as consumers, and these things make reaching and retaining the Gen Z buyer a different ballgame.

Their Brand Loyalty…or Lack Thereof

As a whole, Gen Z buyers are much less loyal to brands (except when it comes to personal electronics…Apple holds their attention pretty firmly). Actually, Gen X and Millennials are similar here—Baby Boomers are really the last generation with fierce loyalty to specific brands.

But Gen Z has even less brand loyalty than Gen X and Millennials. Recent research noted that only 37% of Gen Z could be considered brand loyalists (compared to 56% of Boomers). The lesson here: if you’re still marketing and communicating the same way you did 30 years ago, it’s time to make a change…and fast.

Gen Z buyers are much more open to trying new brands than their predecessors. In fact, 77% of Gen Z adults make an effort to try new brands! This is fantastic for earning their first purchase…but not so great for retention. Because they are much more likely than previous generations to leave you for the competition, you have to work harder to retain their business.

Their openness to new brands has been reinforced by inflationary pressures over the past couple of years, as they look for less expensive options. However, regardless of inflation, Gen Z has shown themselves to be pretty consistently open to trying new brands:

  • They are less likely to make habitual purchases,

  • More likely to shop with intention, and

  • Like to shop around for the best combination of price, quality, and ethical company practices

Gen Z likes to carefully consider purchases before they buy, which gives brands more time and opportunity to lure their mindshare away from competitors. But, again, this makes it harder to earn their loyalty.

Earning Gen Z Brand Loyalty

Retaining the Gen Z buyer will require you to reinforce product features and benefits post-purchase (offering usage advice, maintenance tips, and so on). You’ll need to stay on your toes to keep this generation interested, with new offers and products, as well as top-notch customer service, if you want to bring them back the next time they need a product in your category.

The Influence They Wield

Compared to previous generations, Gen Z holds an outsized influence over other consumers as well as wider product trends.

Born between 1997 and 2012 (give or take a couple of years, depending on who you ask), many Gen Zers are still in their teen and pre-teen years. Yet they already hold sway over household shopping and spending.

In a 2019 National Retail Federation study, 87% of parents said their Gen Z kids influenced at least some of their purchasing decisions. A quick real-world example of this, from our own Paige Wittman:

“I do find myself being influenced by the things my 11 and 13 year olds are bringing me from their digital experiences. They have definitive ideas about what they should have or do: Olaplex, Lululemon, EVERYTHING Nike, Xbox X…even the shows we watch like Ginny and Georgia or All-American.”

In addition, 80% of parents say they involve their kids in their purchasing decisions more than their parents did with them. Parents say they choose to involve their kids in their choices because their child will be using the item, to help teach decision making, or simply because their child’s opinion matters to them.

This especially held true in the early stages of the buying journey, as parents were most likely to involve their kids in researching features and reviews and in price checking products. This makes sense, as that part of the buying journey is taking place more and more online, and Gen Z is most at home online of all the generations.

In short, Gen Z is changing the way families shop.

Taking Advantage of Gen Z’s Influence

Today’s brands need to find ways to involve the whole family in the consumer experience. In fact, 84% of parents said they’d be more likely to shop with a brand that makes it easier to involve their kids in purchase decisions (such as providing an online wishlist function kids can add their choices to or interactive displays in store).

Earning Gen Z’s business (or simply their attention) means earning their influence over the other generations in their lives. Research shows that when brands break through with Gen Z customers first, they’re likely to earn the business of the older generations in their lives. So capturing this generation's attention can yield big returns not only in the immediate future, but also down the road as they influence their parents and grandparents.

Their Experience as Digital Natives

Gen Z are digital natives: they grew up online. While generations before them have certainly adjusted to and embraced the online experience, it’s been a given for Gen Z since day one.

And they spend a lot of time online: According to Statista, nearly half of adults aged 18-29 say they are online “almost constantly” (vs a third of those aged 30-49). And it’s not only social media (which Millennials also grew up with), but also more immersive games and experiences like Minecraft and Roblox.

This absolutely changes their experience and their expectations when they shop.

Online shopping has always been available for this generation—they don’t know a world without it. And, for them, online shopping isn’t limited to websites. Gen Z uses social media to find inspiration, connect with their favorite brands, research potential purchases, and, increasingly, to actually shop. Gen Z is the most likely of all the generations to shop on social media.

This level of digital accessibility has had a permanent impact.

Keeping Gen Z Engaged Online and Offline

This generation is comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing multiple sources of information and with integrating their online and offline experiences. To keep them engaged, your strategy must contain a robust omnichannel component.

Fortunately, an omnichannel strategy is effective in reaching not only Gen Z, but consumers of all ages, as consumers across the generations use a variety of channels to shop. Your strategy should include:

A seamless online experience

Your online experience must be seamless, with an easy-to-use website, clear visuals and descriptions, and a simple, easy-to-follow purchasing process.

Personalized rewards and experiences

Gen Z loves individualized shopping experiences that can be tailored to their preferences. This is especially true if you can tie your offers into social media.

Partnership with micro-influencers

Gen Z is less likely to trust companies than other generations, but has a special fondness for micro-influencers (those with 10,000-50,000 followers). They find micro-influencers to be more relatable than company representatives or traditional celebrities. Consider partnering with relevant micro-influencers through referral or discount codes they can share with their followers.

“Instagrammable” offline experiences

You also need to offer offline experiences that are worth sharing (i.e., “Instagrammable” displays, events, or other in-store experiences). This social element is key: creating spaces where Gen Zers will want to shop with friends or family or share with their online communities.

The sensory experience of in-store shopping itself can be a draw: the ability to see, touch, and examine products in store. Leveraging these elements with visually stimulating environments and well-placed branding will make your space something Gen Z customers will want to share.

Stay Ahead of Generational Trends With Miller Wittman

Retaining the Gen Z buyer (as well as future generations of consumers) will require you to remain on trend with your go to market strategy. This means continually making assessments to ensure your efforts are hitting the mark, then making adjustments as necessary.

Miller Wittman will work with you to develop strategies, programs, and store design that are fresh, relevant, and unique to you and your industry. Contact us today at pwittman@millerwittman.com or 612-991-0229 to discuss your needs and learn more about how we can help you engage more customers and grow your sales.