Every few years marketers must come to grips with the fact that they don't fully understand the motivations of the next generation that's growing up and assuming more spending power. Although Gen Z has been on brands' radars for the past few years, organizations are still trying to figure out who they, how they work and live, and, what they want from brands.

The members of Gen Z, 16-22 year olds, might surprise you with their shopping habits. Even though they've grown up with digital fluency, a smartphone always in their hand, they still prefer shopping in stores than online, according to a survey from IBM and the National Retail Foundation.  

But that doesn't mean Gen Z wants the traditional in-store experience. They're changing shopping habits entirely. Here's how:

1. They want innovative, tech-driven stores.

Gen Z already makes up 25 percent of the US population, so it's smart for any retailer to update their stores with what they want. According to a study from RIS and Tata Consulting Services, this means implementing new technologies in stores such as smartphone self checkout, interactive shoppable screens, and virtual try-on for apparel.

It makes going to the store an interactive, fun experience--which is the only way to draw in the generation that's grown up with instant access to everything, from films to social media.

A great example of a retailer that's doing this successfully is Apple. According to the CEO of Euclid, Brent Franson, "You've got the product playground that is the physical experience, supplemented by human beings that can answer questions...It's a seamless and integrated experience." 

2. They use their phones in tandem with shopping.

Step onto any street or into any shopping mall and any Gen Z-er is walking around with a phone in their hand. According to the same RIS study mentioned above, they use their smartphones for multiple reasons when it comes to shopping, including comparing prices while in-store, reading product reviews, and purchasing from the website instead of the brick-and-mortar store.

What does this mean for retailers? That it's time to work with, not against, their smartphone habits and integrate phone usage with the shopping experience. Creating an app, for example, or implementing virtual reality in-store. It's all about creating a frictionless shopping journey, so that the shopping experience is as easy for consumers as possible.

3. They want stores to be aesthetically pleasing.

In addition to updating stores with the right technology and combining store features with smartphone usage, retailers should also ensure that they're using the right kind of store design.

Because Gen Z-ers have grown up with the Internet, aspirational browsing is an important shopping habit for them. It's less about buying immediately for them than it is about finding the perfect item on Facebook or Pinterest, creating digital scrapbooks, and creating an entire experience around the purchase.

Which is why it's important for a retailer to recreate the same experience in their stores. Gen Z-ers, according to retail consultancy FITCH, have the following aesthetic and sensory preferences when it comes to stores: they orientate by contrast and color before exploring product features, their focus is on the product instead of signage, and touch and access to the product, instead of off-putting clinical displays, are key. 

4. Social media is integral to their shopping experience.

According to a study from RetailDIVE, 80 percent of Gen Z purchases are influenced by social media. This should come as no surprise, considering that they've grown up with social media their entire lives: in one study 50 percent of them said they can't even 'live' without YouTube.

But it's not as simple as posting an ad on Facebook and waiting for Gen Z-ers to like a page or walk into a store. This generation hates having ads pop up on their phones--in large part because they view phones as an extension of themselves, and it's an invasion of their private lives. Instead, they're more drawn to mobile app awards or to branded content that's entertaining, whether it's got a story, music, or humor.

So when a retailer wants to attract new customers to come shop in-store, these preferences are important to consider.

If retailers want to be successful in selling to Generation Z, they still need to step up their game when it comes to the shopping experience. It's not just about dressing mannequins in the latest trendy styles or guaranteeing fair labor standards for their workers. Gen Zers crave an interactive, engaging experience in every part of their lives--and for their shopping habits, this is definitely the case.

Published on: Nov 27, 2017