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Long gone are the days of purely transactional relationships between customers and brands. We expect more from our brands — both on individual and generational levels. Millennials, in particular, grew up during economic and technological booms, which has shaped the current consumer landscape. Millennials — known as the “me” generation — are optimists who applaud today’s innovations and trust their data to the companies they interact with. They are the ultimate online shoppers and are willing to pay a premium price for a premium user experience. Despite millennials’ contributions to market transformation, a new age of shoppers is here and ready to (literally) make a difference — Gen Z. 

Who is Gen Z?

Gen Zers were born between the late 1990s and early 2010s. They are digital natives who can’t recall a time before smartphones, tablets and laptops. Gen Zers are always on, requiring 24/7 access to everything at their fingertips. In fact, more than 60 percent of Gen Zers said they will not use an app or website that is slow to load or difficult to navigate. Gen Z is often referred to as “True Gen”; they’ve grown up in a connected, ever-changing world, which has spurred their search for truth. 

They value individual expression and avoid labels. They’ve grown up during an economic recession and particularly volatile era, so they mobilize for causes they believe in and value dialogue to solve conflicts. With more than two billion Gen Zers around the world, their influence is indisputable.  

What does Gen Z want and expect from brands?

According to McKinsey & Company, Gen Z’s consumption behavior differs from previous generations in three ways: 

  • Access rather than possession: Gen Zers would prefer to have constant, seamless access to products and services rather than own them. This explains the rise of video streaming services and monthly subscriptions to any product or service imaginable. 
  • Expression of individual identity: Self-expression is of utmost importance to Gen Z. They look for a personalized, unique experience — not a one-size-fits-all approach. 
  • Ethical concern: 80 percent of Gen Zers say they refuse to buy goods from companies involved in scandals. This “True Gen” is founded in social responsibility and moral justice. 

Quality is at the core of the Gen Z brand experience. Not only do they want the shoes they buy to be made from recycled materials, but to also hold up against the toughest conditions without bursting at the seams. They are probably buying the shoes based on their friends’ recommendations and opinions, and expect to get the best value for their money with discounts and rewards programs. 

What else? They want a fun, high-quality store experience. Their digital origins can be deceiving; 81 percent of Gen Zers prefer to shop and discover new products in store. Although they desire constant access to everything and everyone, they get tired of it sometimes. Visiting brick and mortar stores is their version of retail therapy — a surprisingly traditional preference. 

How can brands adapt?

It may seem like Gen Z has high expectations, because they do. They value working towards a better world and require the brands they trust to do the same. We recommend employing some of these strategies to ensure your brand stays ahead of the curve:

  • Create a personalized experience. Gen Zers don’t want to be grouped in with the masses. Find ways to engage with these young consumers by giving them control and showing them you value their opinions. Do a consumer-led product design contest. Respond swiftly to their tweets and Instagram comments. Introduce features that allow consumers to customize your products and services.
  • Use an omnichannel approach to marketing and sales. Gen Zers are accustomed to integrating virtual and offline experiences. They are technology-centric, but they take time to disconnect — especially while shopping. Invest in your brick and mortar stores and look for ways to enhance the in-store experience with technology and mobility. Think: apps, virtual reality and digital signage. 
  • Take a stand. Evaluate your brand’s mission and values. Do you actively support any charitable causes? Does your social media presence reflect what your brand believes in? Do your partners and clients share the same principles as you? Get a head start by asking these questions internally before Gen Zers get the chance. 

Gen Z will account for nearly half of global consumers by 2020. Brands need to reflect and act quickly to earn the loyalty of this increasingly powerful and progressive generation. 

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