Written by Danielle Bass, Janine Santiago, Katrina White and Sammie Green, Illustration by Bryce Chan
Authenticity. Personalization. Expression. When it comes to retail, Gen Z has high standards and values they are not willing to compromise.
Gen Zers are truly omnichannel shoppers, utilizing both in-store and online experiences. Different from other generations, Gen Zers are the first to grow up in a world where modern technology is seamlessly integrated into everyday life. Online shopping is second nature, providing ease and convenience at any stage of the shopping journey. In pre-COVID days the majority of Gen Z was choosing to go old school, ditching the laptops and phones for a sensory-inducing shopping experience in-store. In fact, 78% of Generation Z prefers to shop in-person at retail stores.
Then COVID-19 happened, forcing in-store shopping limitations, and, thus, a rise in online shopping amongst Gen Z. With Gen Z spending more time shopping online, it is important for brands to focus on components such as reviews and social ecommerce, driving forces in making a brand stand out in the saturated online market. However, it requires a bit of balance, and it’s important not to lose sight of the in-person experience as more stores begin to open up once again.
In-Store vs. Online: What Reigns Supreme In The Eyes Of Gen Z?
The growing spread of COVID-19 has caused many holiday shoppers to reimagine their normal shopping habits. Although in-store shopping is preferred in a “normal” year, retailers should not neglect the power of digital tools and the connection they foster now and for the future.
Companies are continuously improving the quality of their online stores to catch the tech-savvy eyes of their Gen Z consumers. For example, shopping online at Apple feels like the same experience you would get if you shopped in-store. For every product, Apple provides an in-depth description and 360-degree view of the product. Warby Parker offers a try-at-home service where you can order up to 5 lenses to be shipped for free to your home, allowing you to physically try on the classes. You then can choose to purchase a pair and Warby Parker will send you a brand new frame. Doing integration well is key. Many brands struggle in the execution, such as when inventory isn’t available in-store and online or you can’t buy/return in either channel. Both Apple and Warby Parker do a great job using innovative features to integrate the advantages of both in-store and online shopping.
So, what reigns supreme in the eyes of Gen Z? The answer is both.
Brands must take note of the importance of investing in both online and in-store shopping to remain relevant to Gen Zers. If the shopping experience isn’t up to par, we’re just a click away from buying elsewhere. Brands that invest in both physical and digital media have a greater likelihood of garnering our attention as we switch between channels. Brands need to have both a solid retail and online presence that seamlessly interact with each other in order to keep us engaged and loyal.
It’s All About The #Money
With a purchasing power of $140 billion and purchasing influence 5 times that number, retailers are scrambling to win over Gen Z.
Not only do brands need to invest in making their website and in-store experience, but they need to meet Gen Z where we’re at: social media.
Facebook and Instagram currently take the lead for in-app shopping. In 2015, Instagram launched the “Shop Now” button, mimicking Facebook’s “Buy Now” button. One year later, Instagram introduced product tags. Now, with shoppable posts, people can discover and purchase products without ever having to leave the app. Instagram reported over 130 million users tapping on shopping posts every month. Snapchat has not had much luck utilizing its platform for purchases. Snapchat allows users to add a link to a Snapchat story; however, a majority of Gen Z does not utilize the app for shopping. Typically, those who do use Snapchat to drive purchases are influencers contracted with branding deals.
But what is the biggest pull for jumping on the social shopping trend? Gen Z spends 2-3 times more money shopping on social media than the average consumer. Plus, 56% of Gen Zers make impulse purchases driven by social media feeds and online advertising. With in-app shopping, brands can combine impulsive urges to purchase a product with the ease of direct checkout.
However, brands need to be careful with how they place their products in Gen Z’s feeds. It needs to feel authentic and fit naturally into the platform. This is where many Gen Zers feel Instagram marketplace has become too invasive. Instagram is a place to share photos with friends, interact with celebrities and get a sense of social interaction. With Marketplace becoming a large part of the app, it’s a turn off for Gen Z since it is not initially why they use the app. Instagram was far from sneaky, placing the feature where the notification tab used to be (and where our muscle memory instantly goes).
Social media commerce can be extremely effective for brands to reach Gen Z, if done correctly. Authenticity remains key in gaining Gen Z’s trust and maintaining it. Brands are most successful when they are able to incorporate their in-store experiences with online and ecommerce platforms. Integrating the two media makes for a great overall shopping experience, and a greater likelihood to drive purchases.
The Evolution Of Black Friday
To no one’s surprise, Black Friday, along with everything else, looked even more different this year. To adapt to safety guidelines, more retailers started rolling out deals earlier, and Target and other stores even had a month-long “Black Friday” sale. These extended sales took the stress (and excitement) out of what made Black Friday shopping its own national holiday.
During a global pandemic, these extended sales may have been the answer stores were looking for. The goal of some of these lengthy sales was to thin the crowds of people who still wanted to shop in-person, and it worked. Even though Gen Z craves the experience of in-store shopping, we spent Cyber Week safely behind our laptops, using the search bar instead of the mall directory to find the best deals.
The shopping experience is a personal way for Gen Z to connect with brands and reinforce their purchase decision. It’s hard to feel good about what we buy unless we know it fits right or what to expect. Brands like Warby Parker are feeding into this experiential desire and adapting their online shops to fit that growing need by using a home try-on service to appeal to these consumers. Gen Z is attracted to personalization, and that’s about as personal as it gets.
Gen Z is one of the most powerful generations in history in terms of purchasing influence. If retail brands can create the magic formula to reach them through authenticity and intimate experiences, they will have struck gold.
Published by Jenna Bratman, Lead Strategist, The Agency