Gen Z Buying Behavior: 7 Ways Zoomers Are Changing the Retail Experience

In a recent article, we mentioned there were four generations of shoppers that retailers and brands have been focused on —The Silent Generation/Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. But a fifth generation is starting to make waves in the retail world—Generation Z.

And Gen Z is fast taking over from Millennials as the leading market segment.

With 67 million people as of 2020, Gen Z is the second largest generation in the U.S. (after Millennials at 72 million people). Gen Zers — also known as “Zoomers”— were born between approximately 1997 and 2012 (though there is some debate over the exact range of birth years that make up this generation).

This means that in 2022, the oldest of this generation is turning 25.

As they graduate and start careers and families, Gen Z’s buying power and disposable income are growing. But it isn’t only the older cohort of this generation you need to consider — younger Zoomers hold a lot of sway over their Gen X parents’ purchasing decisions. In fact, 70% of parents of Gen Zers say their kids influence family buying choices.

This generation will soon make up the bulk of your customer base. Therefore, understanding what motivates Gen Z buying behavior will be vital to the success of your brand.

In general, Gen Z tends to be:

  • Financially responsible

  • Technologically adept

  • Highly individualistic, and

  • Laser-focused on social causes

To tap into this generation’s immense buying power, you need to provide a mixture of value, quality, and ethical practices wrapped up in a seamless omnichannel experience.

1. Financial Responsibility

Gen Z is a generation of financially pragmatic consumers. Growing up during a recession has made this generation especially budget conscious.

Gen Zers tend to be much less attached to specific brands than their predecessors, preferring to shop around for the best deal. Brand loyalty is not important to them (though brands that align with their values and needs will gain more loyalty). You'll need to stay on your toes to keep Zoomers interested with personalized offers, high-quality products, and great customer service.

This generation of consumers has high expectations in terms of both the customer experience and product quality. When they shop, they look for quality products at competitive prices and promotions with real value.

One way this generation balances their desire for high-quality products with financial frugalness is through subscription or “buy-now-pay-later” models. From online streaming services to cell phones, Gen Z has utilized this type of payment model more than other generations, especially for high-value, high-quality products.

2. Well-Informed Consumers

Gen Z are also well-informed consumers. They do their research and weigh their options before making buying decisions.

This generation is highly likely to consult online reviews before they buy, with 68% of Gen Z looking at at least three reviews before making a first-time purchase. This includes traditional online reviews as well as social media influencer reviews (YouTube influencer video reviews are especially popular). If you aren’t already working with influencers to do online product reviews, this should be part of your marketing strategy.

In truth, online reviews are important regardless of generation — positive online product reviews are gold for your business and will lead to greater profitability.

In addition to working with influencers, make it a practice to ask customers for reviews after they purchase. And keep an eye on your online reviews: if you get negative ones, respond quickly and graciously.

3. Diversity and Inclusivity as Assets

As the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in U.S. history, Gen Zers consider diversity an important asset, and look for brands that value diversity and inclusivity. They want to see diversity in advertising and know that they’re supporting brands who won’t tolerate discrimination.

In general, Gen Z wants to support brands who value what they value. And they place a high value on diversity and inclusivity.

This includes racial and ethnic diversity, as well as gender-fluid concepts and products. Gen Z is the most accepting of the non-binary, and they look for brands that are taking steps toward becoming gender-neutral industries or producing gender-neutral products.

With this generation, the binary becomes a thing of the past…they aren’t looking for products “made for men” or “made for women”, or ones that reinforce stereotypical gender roles.

This shift is only beginning. And it is a huge opportunity for companies to expand their brands, improve the customer experience, and win Gen Z’s business.

4. Sustainability is Expected

Gen Z also places a high value on sustainability. When they shop, they look for sustainable, eco-friendly products and brands. A product’s carbon footprint is very important to this generation.

Gen Zers are looking for high-quality, long-lasting products, sustainable materials, and brands with socially and ecologically responsible supply chain partners. And they’re more willing than their predecessors to pay more for environmentally-friendly products.

This generation is not always looking to buy brand new. Shopping secondhand and vintage is a popular way to buy more sustainably, including through sites like ThredUp and The Real Real. Clothing and electronics repair services are becoming more popular as well, as younger generations are looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

5. Corporate Social Responsibility

This generation is extremely socially aware. They place a high importance on brand ethics and corporate social responsibility — even more so than Millennials.

Gen Z wants to know who’s making their products, where the materials are from, and what the process is. They want to shop with socially responsible brands, and expect the brands they buy from to take a stand on ethical issues.

In essence, they want to know what you stand for before they’ll buy from you.

Brands who tolerate subpar ethics or ignore ethical concerns will be hard-pressed to earn Gen Z’s buying dollars…much less any sense of brand loyalty.

If you want to draw Gen Z customers, it’s important for your brand to maintain a positive image. As we mentioned earlier, Gen Zers will do their research before buying, and if they have ethical concerns about your brand, they’ll buy elsewhere.

This generation wants to buy from brands that invest in initiatives to benefit the local community, the environment, and other important causes. In addition, Zoomers are acutely aware of what’s genuine and what isn’t when it comes to publicizing your brand’s social awareness…so make sure your communication is authentic.

Nothing will lose Gen Z’s interest faster than inauthentic advertising — especially brands who grandstand support for an issue one month only to ignore it the next. Your Gen Z customers can spot genuine enthusiasm in these things, and they’ll be much more inclined to shop with companies who show an authentic interest in the issues that are important to them.

6. Personalized Messaging

Gen Z responds well to personalized messaging — it’s a great way to build trust with them.

For this generation, personalization isn’t a luxury, it’s an expectation. They are looking for individualized shopping experiences that can be tailored to their own personal preferences.

For promotions, focus on personalized rewards and experiences. Offer exclusive promotions for different groups based on age, school affiliation, occupation, and so on. Aligning your offers with Gen Z’s individual needs shows that you understand this generation and are committed to building a relationship with them.

Rewards programs are a favorite, but don’t expect Zoomers to track down a promo code or digital coupon. Make it easy for them with SMS notifications and geo-fencing capabilities that remind them of deals when they are within close proximity to the store.

7. Omnichannel Shopping Experiences

As the first generation of true digital natives, Gen Z is the most technologically adept generation, and the generation most likely to shop where they’re spending the bulk of their time — online.

However, this generation isn’t solely shopping online.

Despite being the most online generation, Gen Z loves shopping in-store. They like having real people help them, and they like the social aspect of shopping in person (then documenting their shopping experience on SnapChat).

Gen Z is truly the omnichannel generation. They want to shop wherever best suits them in the moment, and they want a great experience every time…a seamless online/offline experience.

Product choice, availability, convenience, and value are the top influencing factors for Gen Z when choosing a shopping channel.

When they do shop online, they’re much more likely than other generations to shop not on e-commerce sites, but on social media. On social media, online shopping and community building combine to create a social shopping experience that Gen Z loves.

To reach Gen Z shoppers, make sure the content you share is interesting, visually-appealing, and engaging. The fastest path to Gen Z’s attention is to integrate technology and creative storytelling into your marketing strategy with videos and other types of visual marketing.

Capitalize on their love of social media and micro-influencers by working with relevant micro-influencers in your industry, giving them their own unique referral codes to share with their followers.

Stay Relevant With Help From Miller Wittman

What needs to shift in your strategy to stay up to date with Gen Z buying behavior? If you hope to gain this generation’s business, the time to make changes is now.

Miller Wittman can help ensure your strategy, programs, and retail design stay fresh and relevant to the consumer of today…and of tomorrow. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you engage customers, multiply your efforts, and grow your sales.