The relationship between Gen Z and Retail

Image Source: Arina Krasnikova on Pexels

Gen Z has proven themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Even though the world pivoted into temporary chaos within this past year, Gen Z continued to prevail especially in the retail industry. Considering that Gen Z are true digital natives and grew up in the world of technology from adolescence, it should be no surprise to anyone that we adapted so well to online shopping. Of any generation, Gen Z was essentially the least affected from the abrupt temporary closing of brick and mortar stores and the immediate shift to the digital world.

Even before COVID-19 hit, many brands and retailers already had a relatively strong online presence. There was a 15.8% total retail sales in 2019 alone which was an increase from the 14.3% of online sales from the year before. Ecommerce has steadily grown year to year and Gen Z has played a huge role in that incline. Retailers clearly recognized that Gen Z and future generations to come appreciate the digital world in all aspects of life, including shopping. As abrupt the pandemic was, the move to online shopping that better accommodated the newer generations has been years in the making. With that being said, that doesn’t mean the retail industry didn’t have to do further research on Gen Z in order to know how to connect with them.

The first challenge retailers noticed is the brand loyalty Gen Z has, or should I say lack thereof. Gone are the days where customers had blind loyalty for a brand. Gen Z consumers frequently shift their allegiance through different brands. Traditionally a brand’s primary focus when reaching out to consumers was finding ways to differentiate themselves from other competitors. However, Gen Z continues to show that they are not the traditional consumer. Social media has played a significant role in this shift of loyalty. We are constantly receiving new information about anything and everything every second of the day, so our focus tends to consistently change. 

As unloyal we can be, that doesn’t mean retailers aren’t finding ways to retain long lasting relationships with Gen Z customers. For this rising generation, what makes brands stand out is their ability to effectively connect with their audience. The best way to do that is to get personal. We live in a technologically dominated world where people are always posting about their personal lives on social media. Considering that Gen Z are digital natives, this way of living is all we know. There is not a time we can recount where we weren’t splitting our lives between the physical and digital worlds. With all that in mind, the most effective brands have found a way to retain loyal Gen Z consumers by creating personal connections. Incorporating relatable photos, creating technology that can remember a consumer’s style preferences and sizing and providing high quality and personalized customer service are different ways retailers can bond with their Gen Z audience. 

On top of creating personal connections, Gen Z is also extremely mission based when it comes to shopping. It’s not just about trends or wearing the newest product on the market anymore. Gen Z has expectations of brands diving deeper within themselves and supporting a cause or bringing awareness to a certain issue. Basically, who they purchase from is highly influenced by social causes they believe in. Because of this, it is more common for brands to have aligned themselves with social causes. On most websites there is always a page dedicated to social awareness or initiatives for better inclusion and diversity. Also, it is not that uncommon for retailers to post on social media about ways they support different social and political movements happening in the world. It’s not just about fashion anymore. Gen Z expects the brands they purchase from to be socially aware of what is going on in the world.

It’s not only social awareness that sparks interest in retail but commitment towards sustainability as well. Retailers being more sustainable can take shape in many different ways. For some it may be sourcing better sustainable materials for products. For others it’s being transparent about workers rights and providing fair wages. Regardless of how a brand decides to be sustainable, it’s essential that retailers clearly communicate to the Gen Z shoppers that they support sustainable fashion. At the end of the day, Gen Z has completely different habits and interests in the world of retail. The relationship between Gen Z and retail is still developing but as the retailing industry continues to study Gen Z shopping habits, they will better understand exactly what Gen Z consumers are looking for and how to be further prepared to relate for all future generations to come.

Janelle Sessoms

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