Gen Z and the mobile devices they favor have come of age in perfect sync, and that alone makes the cohort very different from the rest of us, including Millennials. But since the first wave of the generation is just now reaching 21, why is so this important to marketers right now?
It’s true that “they don’t have that much money because a lot of them are in their teens, but in four years, I understand they are going to represent about 24% of the U.S. workforce and about 40% of consumer spending,” says Roy DeYoung, SVP of creative strategy at PMX Agency in New York. “It’s not that they invented these disruptors of the economy” — think Uber, Airbnb, Etsy and scads of smaller enterprises — “but they are the first generation to totally embrace them."
Gen Z not only spends much more of its time interacting with family and friends online, but also making purchases. At the same time, says DeYoung, its members “want to go into a physical store; they like that hands-on experience.” He calls it “out-of-house social,” where the retail shop becomes the hub of the brand experience. But how that experience is shared across social channels becomes vital to propagating a brand's success.
Fashion is huge for Gen Z, though not in the traditional way where everyone has to be wearing the shoe du jour, or a label bestows a certain status. Vintage clothing, which enables each individual to construct his or her own story, is increasingly in vogue. And those stories, of course, are told on social.
“Fashion is their representation. For many of them, it’s their art. How they look, how they feel in the clothing — and the story behind each piece of clothing. They may go to American Eagle and just buy a couple of basics — some denim, some T-shirts — but around that is vintage. Maybe they found a vintage pair of Danner hiking boots from somebody in Seattle. … Maybe the socks came from Savers; the factory had Santa Claus on them, but the stitching was wrong -- so it winds up looking like something else.”
Being online all the time, this generation is also exposed to a lot of information. Much of it is scary. Gen Zers may not be earning a living yet, but they fear bankruptcy. They’re concerned about global warming, waste, online identity theft, animal rights and fair labor practices.
The aforementioned Savers — a "global thrift retailer" with the tagline “Shop. Reuse. Reimagine.” — fits perfectly into this ethos. Photos of individuals wearing a sampling from the 650 million pounds of used goods that it claims to keep out of global landfills each year get posted on Instagram, and the thrill of the finds get told on Snapchat.
Gen Zers are avid researchers whose information sources are global, says DeYoung, singling out the U.K.’s Monocle magazine as one sophisticated source that resonates with the group. Similarly, “they will scour the planet for unique products and brands,” he says.
The heartening news is, they’re willing to spend more on a considered purchase. But they consider differently from Gen X and Y, who will “see something, browse it, do a little bit of research, and then buy," says DeYoung. Gen Zers will not only spend a lot of time browsing, “they’re going to get out there and share this potential purchase with their friends, wait for feedback, have a conversation about it.”
The big challenge for brands is to hold on to them during this process, and to facilitate what they want to do in a — you guessed it — authentic way.
Brooklyn-based American Deadstock, which DeYoung found on Etsy by doing a back search on vintage clothing on Pinterest, excels at this, he feels. Its more than 18,000 sales and 22,000 favorites may not be anywhere near, say, The Limited at its peak. But The Limited’s shops are shuttered and American Deadstock is “doing pretty darn good” in its low-overhead niche by “taking advantage of a connection with Instagram, where it has 16,000 followers,” DeYoung says.
A brand has to “walk the walk,” DeYoung says, not just claim to be, for example, animal-cruelty-free. If you’re not, someone will have done the research and, sure as there’s a share button, friends of friends of friends will soon know about it.
An online enterprise like ASOS, on the other hand, thrives because its claim of “fashion with integrity” has been shown “over and over again to be credible and authentic,” says DeYoung, “so the Gen Zers love it and shop there.”
And share their stories about it on social.