Let’s face it, the focus of the last decade has been mostly all about Millennials (the group also known as Gen Y and Echo Boomers/the children of Baby Boomers). Millennials being the demographic cohort born between 1980 – 1994, who came of age (10 – 22 years old) between 1990 to 2004 and who represent approximately 71 million in the United States alone. Fashion brands and marketers got to know them well over the years and they expended lots of time and money understanding their shopping patterns.
But now…a new generation is taking center stage, Generation Z (also known as post-Millennials and the digital generation). Gen Z is defined as those born between the years 1995 to 2009 and who are coming of age between 2005 – 2020. Their current population is 21 million, but according to the U.S. Census, that number is projected to grow to 80 million, with spending power estimated at $200 billion annually and over $1 trillion globally in indirect spending power when you factor in their influence on parental or household purchases. Gen Zers are mega influencers and you can believe that fashion brands and retailers have been working overtime, trying to understand and cater to this new demographic.
Never mind the fact that some of this new cohort are not even old enough to vote, they are for sure driving the present and future of the fashion industry. According to a report by Barclays, “by 2020 Generation Z will be the largest group of consumers globally. They will account for 40% of consumers in the U.S., Europe and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and 10% of the rest of the world.” This generation has huge spending power.
Gen Zers are the first generation to be connected to social media from birth. They have the capacity to share events, opinions and experiences, and are changing society at lightning speed. In addition, they are empowered on how they view life and are simultaneously setting the stage for common attitudes within their own tribe. Gen Z are living in an exceptional world, one that is very different from previous generations. Let’s explore what Gen Zers are all about.
Millennials were introduced to the rise of social media, tablets, smart devices and the mobility/connection that the digital revolution created as they were growing up. Gen Zers, on the other hand, were born digital and therefore have no idea that this is something new. Being digital is part of their DNA and as a result they are extremely tech-savvy and are self-learners. They have never known a world whereby they couldn’t instantly get connected or find the answer to any question that crosses their mind. They literally are growing up online and are connected more than 90% of their free time.
Another fact about Gen Z, is that they have only known turbulence and instability, having lived through the aftermath of 9/11 and experienced war and economic recession. They may have older siblings who struggled to find work during the recession, and this has now driven them to focus on self-awareness, personal reliance, financial conservatism and hard work. Therefore, they are more conscious on how they spend their money. They are aware of volatility within the market. And although the economy is currently strong, they are very careful where they invest and spend their money, should the economy slow. This also leads them to analyze brands more carefully. Contrary to Millennials, Gen Z are less idealistic and more realistic and for that reason fashion is less about ‘fitting in’ and more about making choices that reflect their identity. They are not spending less, they are just making smarter choices that reflect who they really are.
Gen Z is the first generation that has grown up in a world that is more openly diverse than in the past. They are much more conscious about their future. Globalization has allowed the mix and migration of cultures. Most of this generation grew up having an African American president in the U.S. – Barack Obama – and a woman Chancellor in Germany – Angela Merkle, phenomena that was not even thinkable in the past. The increased attention on the LGBT and environmental movements have forced impressive changes in history, making marriage equality a reality in places such as the U.S. and India, as well as the banning of plastic bags from different places, like China and the U.K. These and other related events have shaped Generation Z. Therefore, it is no surprise that this demographic cohort looks for brands that are conscious of the environment, diversely-inclusive and that offer non-gendered products.
A Generation Empowered
Contrary to Millennials, Gen Zers didn’t grow up over protected. They have not been given trophies just for participating. This generation has not been sheltered from the evils of the world. On the other hand, parents of this generation have taught their kids how to defend themselves in a world, where there is easy access to everything. They have been educating their kids and preparing them to deal with life’s difficulties, such as internet bullies, predators, school violence, economic setbacks and career challenges. Parents of Generation Z tend to have more open and consultative relationships with their children. They are pushing stronger to prepare them for life and this has created individuals with higher expectations. This unique social environment has made them a generation that is intuitively innovative, goal-oriented and realistic.
All the social characteristics and traits discussed above, can be seen in their preferences for fashion, entertainment and advertisement. And that is why they are so interesting. They have a unique way of seeing the world, and we need to see the world through their eyes in order to cater to them correctly.
So, what are Gen Zers looking for?
Generation Z may be perceived as impatient with short attention spans, but they are not superficial, they are quite hungry for authenticity. They want brands that meet their real needs, and they are always looking for the better, faster and more fun option in a brand. They are looking for brands with a realistic storytelling, something that connects with their individuality and their tribe. They are not obsessing with stereotypes, or images of beauty standards that have been created so far. Instead they actually challenge those old standards, because they want to relate with brands that resembles themselves. This generation doesn’t feel the need to change to fit in, in this world. They simply want to be their own true self and they are choosing brands that honestly reflect this inclusivity and diversity.
Generation Z is highly educated, technologically savvy and naturally creative. Even if they are immersed in social media, which may seem to some as trivial, they best use it to create a positive impact in the world. Therefore, you see them more likely pointing out injustice, racism and inequality. They only want to be associated with brands that are social and environmentally responsible, or which have a greater purpose than just “selling a shirt.” They are not to be fooled, they do not fall for beautiful things without content. They may be young, but they are way advanced for their time.
How can brands and retailers connect to these savvy consumers?
Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, Gen Zers get to share everything they do, buy, and experience with their friends – real time. Because of this, they expect shopping to also be experiential. They don’t want to only buy “stuff,” they also want to buy the “experience,” with the product becoming an added bonus. For retailers, it’s as simple as encouraging a consumer to upload to their new outfit to Instagram, to personalize a bag with their initials, or, as complex as what some stores in N.Y.’s Soho have done, adding interactive technology, a meditation studio, or in-store basketball court among others. Retail stores are now realizing that they need to offer more than just a ‘transaction.’ A great example of this is Farfetch. Last year they launched their pop-up “Store of the Future,” where they provided a screen for customers to sign in and search for their bucket list or purchase history. They also have smart mirrors, so customers can request different sizes, alternative products or even pay without leaving the dressing room. Another example is the House of Vans London Skatepark, a location where art, music, BMX, street culture and fashion all meet up.
What experimental shopping tells us about Generation Z is that they care about things that connect them to other people. They are constantly looking for something that is going to stay with them, that is going to feel authentic and not robotic. Also, they are looking to ‘connect’ to the brand and the retailer. So today, smart brands realize that they must sell an experience along with their product. This experience doesn’t necessarily mean having to have complex in-store technology to ensure a remarkable customer experience, but they will need to offer a memorable interaction with the consumer. It has to be original, meaning it has to be close to the brand’s values and authenticity. The interaction needs to connect with the personality of the consumer and it needs to be unexpected and unique. It is all about personalizing the shopping experience and providing more than just a product.
As the fashion industry continues to decode the likes and preferences for Gen Z, others like futurist/demographer Mark McCrindle is leading the campaign to call anyone born after 2010 a part of Generation Alpha. According to him, 2.5 million Alphas are born around the globe every week.
Care to share a favorite Gen Z story of this group is helping to change the world?