March 28, 2017 | Written by: Jay Akasie
Categorized: Industry Insights
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Have you read the new the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) global survey of 15,600 “Gen Z-ers” – consumers between the ages of 13 and 21? I just finished this must-read piece of research and I can’t help but recall a sci-fi TV show. One episode in particular.
There’s a fascinating moment in the original Star Trek series in which the Enterprise has been hurled back through time. Mr. Spock ascertains that they are orbiting Earth sometime in the latter half of the 20th century given the level of pollution in the atmosphere as well as the detection of television transmissions over the airwaves.
TV as a Passing Fad
Tele-what? Someone on the bridge asks what this television thing is. Mr. Spock explains that it was a form of mass entertainment and communications during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. We realize that TV, like many forms of entertainment and communications before it and since, is just a passing fad. There’s an irony, of course, that we come to this realization by watching a popular television show. A fad, to be sure, but most of us were certain that it would last a lot longer than until just the early 21st century.
That is, until you read the aforementioned IBV’s new survey “Uniquely Generation Z: What Brands Should Know About Today’s Youngest Consumers.” The Millennial generation – described as largely self-centered and self-absorbed because they were early adopters of the Web and mostly allowed it to bring out the worst features of their personalities – have met their match. So has television. Gen Z-ers are as young as 13, and they’ve never had to choose how they would adopt to the digital world because it was already there and ubiquitous before they were born. That’s why the comparison between them and their Millennial elders is so tantalizing.
IBV surveyed 15,600 Gen Z-ers in 16 countries (ranging from emerging to mature) on six continents. They asked respondents about how they choose brands and make priorities when making purchases. How and where they make purchases might be one of the most revealing parts of the survey: This youngest generation of consumers feels as comfortable in a bricks-and-mortar store as it does online – more so even. What matters to Gen Z-ers isn’t so much the ability to “go online” and buy, say, sneakers on a retail Web site. What matters to them is the seamlessness of the purchase and the availability of the make and model of sneakers.
In fact, they enjoy bricks-and-mortar stores that are outfitted with sensors and beacons and in which a sales associate’s tablet can instantly be turned into a check-out device. My conclusion (not that of the Gen Z surveyors) is that there is no waiting in line for a cashier because the right technology ensures that the point-of-sale occurs immediately after they’ve chosen what they want to buy. Plus, (again my independent conclusion) this generation doesn’t rely on cash or cashiers in a world defined by the rise of “chip” cards and the cryptocurrency.
No Online or Offline Dichotomy
The key to understanding the world’s youngest consumer generation, which is 2.5 billion-strong and growing, is that it doesn’t measure itself as being online or offline when considering how it spends the bulk of its time. For example, the IBV reports that among other activities:
- 74 percent of Gen Z-ers said that they spend most of their free time online.The study suggests that other popular activities outside of school or work (watching TV and movies, hanging out with friends, and spending time with family) are enjoyed either through or concurrently with online activities like social media or video-sharing.
The television, therefore, that big screen that we learned would be a fad that lasted only into the early 21st century, turns out is just that. Thanks to Gen Z-ers, the standard TV show is transforming into streaming, online content created as successfully by social media and even Web retailers as by traditional network studios. And the preferred devices of choice of Gen Z-ers to deliver that content (what two devices do you use the most)?
- Some 75 percent of them told IBV that it’s a mobile device or a smartphone.
- Just 3 percent of the group chose “smart” TVs.
In my opinion, the survey demonstrates that when technology is consumer-focused and the result is seamless delivery – anytime, anywhere – then what might up until recently seemed inconceivable (the demise of the traditional television model) can be swift and, well, downright evolutionary. Because if there’s one thing the youngest consumers among us have proven, it’s that not knowing anything but a digital world is going to have profound consequences on the consumer markets as Gen Z-ers become older and have more money to spend.
Mr. Akasie is Content Manager & Client Advocacy Leader for the Telecommunications, Media & Entertainment, and Energy & Utilities industries at IBM.