Gen Z's Wish List: Mental Health Messages, Job Success, Way Less Debt

Sephora remains one of Gen Z’s favorites

Gen Z may just be finding its footing in young-adult land, but new research from ICSC, formerly the International Council of Shopping Centers, finds this cohort has already developed strong shopping preferences.

Compared to the millennials who preceded them, these shoppers, now aged between 16 and 26, have a remarkably different take on money and how they hope to earn it. They are five times more likely to value successful careers than having the newest items, for example. And while their debt is creeping up, they are reluctant to use credit and prefer to pay with cash and debit cards.

The research is based on a survey of over 1,000 Gen  Z shoppers, split evenly between workers and students. About 55% live with their parents or in student housing, and the balance either rent or own their homes.



ICSC undertook the research to get a better sense of these kids’ financial preferences. Their lives have been bookended by economic disruption, first by the Great Recession and then by COVID-driven disorder. The report notes Gen-Zers are well aware of the challenges facing them in terms of high interest rates, student debt and economic uncertainty.

As a result, they are already savers, with 41% saying they set aside more than they spend, while 36% say the reverse is true. One in five say they divide their money equally.

And despite their digital native status, they’re not fans of electronic payments. Only 14% say they prefer such options as Apple or Samsung Pay, Venmo or PayPal. And only 3% like buy-now-pay-later services.

Gen Z-ers wants good jobs, with 63% saying a successful career is their top priority, followed by 50% who want enough time to enjoy personal interests and hobbies. About 40% say they want a marriage and family life, and 35% aspire to home ownership one day.

They are omnichannel buyers while shopping. About 97% shop in brick-and-mortar stores and 95% buy online. Discount and off-price retailers are their favorite channels, named by 48%. About 25% say dollar stores are also a favorite destination. Specialty retailers like Sephora are favorites among 24%, while 22% love fast-fashion brands like Shein and Zara. Department stores are named by 21%. And 13% prefer thrift stores.

About 85%, split evenly among genders, say social media -- led by Instagram and TikTok -- impacts their purchases.

While they say friends and families significantly impact their decisions, 54% read product websites and 47% look at third-party reviews. Almost 40% say they also heed recommendations from social media influencers.

The study also probed causes that matter most to Gen Z-ers. Mental health rose to the top cause on the list, named by 53%. The environment and racial and gender equity come next, with both issues mentioned by 47% of respondents.

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