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Generation Z characteristics: What businesses should know about the next wave of consumers

Published November 10, 2020

How are you connecting to the generation that will spend $143 billion this year in the U.S. alone?


Gen Z, the portion of the U.S. population born around 1996 through roughly 2010, makes up for and by 2026, as the largest consumer base in the U.S. So, brands need to get to know them.

For starters, Gen Z consumers are the most ethnically diverse generation and they鈥檙e on track to be the most educated in U.S. history, but they aren鈥檛 terribly trusting鈥攖hey can sense insincerity a mile away. They value things in brands that they also value in their daily lives like authenticity, transparency, being unique, giving back to society and collaborating. Smart brands, above all, should find ways to nurture their relationships with this powerful and discerning new generation of consumers.聽

What they鈥檒l be looking for when they wield their spending power


This is the generation that, largely, grew up not remembering the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks 鈥攕o they don鈥檛 know what the world was like before that; they鈥檝e seen a lot of world conflict and may have a better understanding of suffering in the world than previous generations. So, count on them researching your business before they shop to figure out what you鈥檙e all about. But that鈥檚 just one of many characteristics that set these consumers apart.聽聽

They want you to show that you care鈥攁bout the world.

Generation Z doesn鈥檛 want to be sold to鈥攖hey want to be connected with and in a way that shows you support good in the world. A found 鈥90 percent believe companies must act to help social and environmental issues,鈥 and 鈥75 percent鈥痺ill do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand on issues.鈥澛

To them, value reflects more than what鈥檚 on a price tag. They鈥檙e more likely to purchase a product or service that鈥檚 backed by social accountability. According to a study by , 33 percent 鈥渉ave stopped buying from a company that contributes to a cause with which they disagree.鈥 This leads them to support brands like , and 鈥攁ll companies that put sustainability at the forefront of their product and marketing.聽

They shop鈥痵ocial, sustainable and small.

Despite the fact that Gen Z has grown up on digital, that鈥檚 not their preferred way to shop, they like visiting your brick-and-mortar and they love to interact with brands in person. To Gen Z, brick-and-mortar businesses Young consumers are known to shell out their cash for an experience rather than just a new product. As a money-conscious generation, experiences reach beyond expensive concerts and vacations. They want to enjoy experiences in everyday life.

According to a鈥, 鈥77 percent of Gen Z respondents in the U.S. said that shopping at brick-and-mortar stores is their preferred channel.鈥 In the same study, 46 percent of Gen Z consumers said they get their information in-store before making an online purchase. The data proves further that young shoppers want to spend time with brands in person, regardless of their penchant for favoring online interaction.

And, because they are socially minded, their support for small business is good news for brick-and-mortar owners鈥攅specially if you want to make a COVID-19鈥痗omeback. An鈥疉pril 2020 consumer survey showed鈥48 percent of respondents under 45鈥痵aid they trust retailers with physical locations more since the beginning of quarantine. Gen Z consumers are loyal to brick-and-mortar businesses that are transparent about the safety measures they鈥檙e taking, like curbside pickup and taking contactless payments.

Gen Zers want to feel like they鈥檙e a part of a community that supports the causes they care about. For this reason, they . Bigger by 鈥減opping up,鈥 giving their larger operation a smaller feel. Gen Z is also into supporting brands they can relate to. That鈥檚 why you鈥檒l see 鈥攂ig and small鈥攕haring stories through channels like blogging and via social media.

They support businesses that show authenticity.

According to CNBC, when it comes to Gen Z consumer sentiment, are key. Gen Z is on the hunt . They want relatability, all the way from the ads they see to the person behind the cash register. Not to mention, their hunger for authenticity compounds during times of . Gen Z consumers want to know the brands they support also support the causes they care about, and if they don鈥檛, they have no problem taking their business elsewhere.

They use social media to research before they buy.

Social media permeates their buying habits. In the past year,鈥37 percent of Gen Zs 鈥渉ave increased their use of social media for purchase decision-making,鈥 according to . Additionally, two out of three Gen Z shoppers want to make purchases directly through social media. Gen Zs tend to move through multiple touchpoints before making a purchase鈥攄oing online, social media鈥痑nd in-store research before taking the plunge. Some call it 鈥攖hey call it being informed.

They love to eat out.

Restaurants can take advantage of Gen Z鈥檚 spending power before they even enter the workforce. Many of those belonging to Generation Z are still in college, and in that age group they鈥 spend most of their disposable income on food. In fact, almost 70 percent of them eat out once a week. By adopting the digital technologies they feel comfortable with, restaurants can get ahead on planning the capture of this worthwhile consumer base.聽聽

They want to foster financial wellness.

聽led by financial technology company聽Afterpay聽and The Future Laboratory proved Gen Z to be a financially proactive generation. They monitor their spending habits through apps and don鈥檛 use credit cards like previous generations do (although聽they聽way millennials credit cards also changed). According to the study, 鈥94 percent of聽Afterpay鈥檚聽Gen Z customers use their own money, linking their account to a debit card.鈥澛 There鈥檚 a current responsible spending trend聽鈥痑s well.鈥疻hen making a purchase decision at work, Gen聽Zs聽are more likely to聽聽ratings鈥攖hen discuss it with peers鈥攔ather than going through a sales rep. Because of this, financial institutions can better engage with Gen Z customers by adopting more聽digital solutions.

Remember, they鈥檙e now the most digitally advanced generation


The oldest of the Gen聽Zers聽were born only eight years before Facebook launched, so their profile pictures span from grade school until they found their first job. The first iPhone was released in 2007, so constant engagement with all the social media platforms is simply what they know. And, while they prefer to shop in your store, digital-first shouldn鈥檛 be overlooked.聽聽

That means you鈥檒l want to:

  • Kick up your brand鈥檚 visibility across every social media platform and do it in a way that allows for the most engagement (Pandora understood that concept,聽)

  • Accept contactless payments (all the various types whether it鈥檚 Apple Pay, tap-to-pay cards or mobile payments from their banks like Zelle)聽

  • Have a website that is easy to use and is intuitive鈥攁nything that seems outdated isn鈥檛 going to go over well with this generation聽

  • Give them as many ways possible to interact with you digitally鈥攎ake emails and texting part of your regular marketing campaigns, they want to hear that ping

Emphasize your authenticity and truly connect with them


Generation Z is quickly becoming the most powerful consumer group in the world. If you haven鈥檛 started to bridge the聽gap between your millennial-driven strategies and those that appeal more to Gen Z, you鈥檙e at risk of lagging behind.聽Businesses who understand Gen聽Zers, what they value and how to interact with them will be the ones to win over their business. But the keys will also be nurturing relationships and being authentic, which for them is the new 鈥渢ransparent.鈥澛