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What do Gen Z shoppers want?

April 11, 2018

Despite their youth, Gen Z shoppers are an economic force.

Born in 1995 or later, they are projected to be 2.56 billion strong by 2020. They have grown up in a fluid digital world in which the boundaries between their physical and online lives have converged. Having 24/7 access to information and digital resources has made them more educated, knowledgeable and self-reliant in deciding which products and services to choose or brands to support.

To learn more about Gen Z’s habits and preferences, the National Retail Federation and the IBM Institute for Business Value surveyed 15,600 consumers aged 13-21 from 16 countries. We compiled our results into a series of three studies. The first study paints a clear picture of who Gen Z consumers are: digital natives who love mobile, heavily influence family spending and almost universally still prefer to shop in-store. The second study revealed this new buying generation’s expectations for brands: transparency, authenticity and opportunities for engagement and co-creation. Now, in the third and final part of our series, we’re discovering what Gen Z shoppers really want:

Gen Z shoppers are demanding customers — but not in the way you think

Gen Z shoppers are full of surprises. On one hand, they want what their parents want: seamless delivery of retail essentials, such as value, choice, quality, convenience and availability. On the other hand, as digital natives, they have their own expectations for how they want those essentials delivered. Technology is important to them, but only if it adds value and enhances their shopping experience. And they expect to be able to make that experience uniquely their own. Brands should act now to build loyalty. While only 36 percent of Gen Z shoppers in our study said they had a strong connection to a brand, the number increased to 46 percent among those aged 19-21. The potential benefits are great, but the window of time for winning over this new and important generation is closing fast.

Gen Z has high expectations for retail essentials

As with previous generations, Gen Z places great importance on dependable and consistent delivery of retail essentials. Sixty-eight percent of Gen Zers surveyed said a wide choice of products was the most important factor when choosing where to shop; 66 percent said product availability is important; and 58 percent said it’s important that retailers provide the right pick-up or delivery options for their purchases.

Although they are digital natives, Gen Zers most often choose to shop in the physical store. Ninety-eight percent of those we surveyed said they typically make purchases in a store some or most of the time. In fact, three times as many said they shop most of the time in a store versus as those who said they shop most of the time online.

Gen Z values technology for easier, more rewarding shopping

Rather than buying into fancy features and gadgetry, Gen Zers prefer technology that empowers them and adds direct value. Fifty-four percent of those we surveyed said they would like tools that allow them to try out products in-store. Thirty-nine percent said they were interested in robots that help make decisions or fix problems.

Engagement through mobile phones should be at the top of a brand’s list, as these devices already are entrenched in Gen Zers’ lives. Seventy-five percent of respondents selected a mobile phone or smartphone as their device of choice, and 47 percent said they use their smartphones when shopping in a store. They use their phones to research products and services, compare prices and find discounts prior to making purchases.

In addition to shopping with their mobile phones, 73 percent of respondents said they use them for social media, especially to chat and communicate with friends and family. Brands have an opportunity to interact individually with Gen Zers using social media.

Individualized value is the key for Gen Z

Gen Zers express a strong desire for shopping experiences that are uniquely their own. Respondents revealed that direct value provided at an individualized level, such as through promotions that match an individual’s specific needs and desires, was more important than personalized experiences shaped by the brand.

To meet these expectations, brands must seek to understand each Gen Zer’s perception of value. In the past, retail value was based primarily on price and availability. Today, the criteria for value has evolved to include options that didn’t exist a few years ago. For example, while one Gen Zer may only care about getting the cheapest price for a product, another may be willing to pay more for a product made by a brand with a purpose he or she supports.

To learn more about how to capture Gen Z consumers and build a lasting relationship, read our studies:

Uniquely Generation Z: What brands should know about today’s youngest consumers

Gen Z brand relationships: Authenticity matters

What do Gen Z shoppers really want?

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Meet the authors

Simon Glass
Global Retail Leader


Jane Cheung
Consumer Industry Research Lead, IBM Institute for Business Value