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Gen Z|August 08, 2018

Gen Z Finds Its Own Unique Path to Purchase

Sometimes it’s a new path, sometimes it’s an old one.

Here’s a very personal, Gen Z, view of shopping that underscores how fresh and new even long-term retail practices are to young consumers. Retailers that do not see their shopping experience through young eyes risk losing relevance, and growth opportunities.

Meet Kaci, WSL’s summer intern from Dallas, Texas. She’s a soon-to-be college graduate straddling two worlds of retail.

In one world are all the elements Kaci seeks as a young consumer: one-of-a-kind finds; surprise amenities; the thrill of the hunt. The other retail world is familiar to many people regardless of age – one that caters to need, experience, ease, and value.

The shopping attitudes of this young shopper (and many of her Gen Z cohorts in their late teens early twenties) underscore the freshness of her view of retail, which is still unfolding. In fact, many of the retail elements important to her are also important to older shoppers. The key difference is that it's all novel to Kaci and her friends – something we suspect some merchants and marketers lose sight of. And, in doing so, miss opportunities such newness presents.

How Does Gen Z View Shopping?

Consider just these two facts: Unlike their older cohorts, far more Gen Z shoppers – 57%– will spontaneously buy whatever they need regardless of the store, according to our How America Shops® Report, “Benchmarking the Future.” Amongst Gen X and Boomers, the figure is closer to 40%.

Gen Z shoppers are more open minded as to where they shop but they also are more likely to change their minds about what they bought in-store, (even if they had decided what they wanted beforehand). About 35% of younger shoppers change their mind compared with 26% and 19% of Gen X and Boomers respectively.

Here are some of Kaci’s perspectives on where and why she likes to shop and the experiences that mean most to her. It’s a very personal, but very relevant snapshot of what a younger shopper wants. While Kaci is special to us she’s not that unique as we continue to see in our How America Shops® studies.


1. Shopping is a Source of Expression to Young Shoppers

“My style is a way I can express my identity without saying a word. I look for unique clothing and decorative goods, and I love being able to create art from these purchases. I delight in being different and finding unique pieces that help me portray me. Because of this, I’m staying away from the fast fashion chain stores and shopping in thrift stores.”


2.  Be Open-Minded When Thrifting

“Back home, I'm known for my peculiar sense of fashion and my friends notice. I often take them to my favorite thrift stores to help them shop. When thrifting, it can be hard to find something one thinks is a true find, so you have to be creative. Once I find a piece I'm interested in, I imagine how it would work in an outfit and envision ways I could use it. I also help my friends find pieces they wouldn't normally think fit them, but with thrifting it's all about keeping a wide eye and open mind.”


3. Experiences that Make Stores Stand Out

“Shoppers need a reason to come back to a store other than to shop, and the element of surprise can be that reason. My favorite retailers offer a “treasure hunt” experience during which I find hidden gems. T.J. Maxx, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond are a few of my favorite places to shop for this reason – I never know what I’m going to find. Shoppers like that sense of surprise and knowing there is something new for them.”


4. Being on the Hunt

“Since being in New York, I have found several unique “treasure hunt” stores. Flying Tiger offers a fun spin on goods from household decoration to office supplies. I can go in there not seeking anything and come out with bags of well-priced, useful items like notebooks, crafts, office supplies, beauty products and more. Another store I like, particularly because it offers an experience beyond shopping, is the coffee shop Silvana. I can drink a latte while exploring hand-painted goods by local artists and listen to live music in the basement. I regularly seek these types of retail experiences because I want more bang for my buck. I want to see and experience more with everything I do, including shopping. These retailers create full experiences, making me want to come back for more.”


5. Forming Connections with Retailers

“My generation of shoppers wants connections with the retailers with whom we shop. These connections can be formed in a lot of ways, like through transparency – letting me know how a product is made and where it comes from. By sharing their product information in relatable ways, retailers can gain my trust because I know what I’m actually spending my money on. We also like our shopping to be more personalized through programs like loyalty rewards that offer incentives to make us want to continue shopping.”


6. What Can Stores do to Abide by Gen Z’s Path to Purchase?

“It’s pretty simple: Implement new ways to keep the shopper in the store. I return to stores that include unexpected and welcome attractions like food bars, lounge areas, photo booths, music and mood lighting – even eco-friendly decor and shopping bags. The full shopping environment brings me back for more than just the goods, but for the moments.”


How to Market to Generation Z Shoppers

Notice Kaci spoke little of her digital interactions. This is because digital devices are as much a part of the physical store experience to her as bananas are part of the grocery shopping experience. But what she values in the in-store experience speaks volumes. Some takeaways:

  • Help the shopper see new ways to use typical items. Kaci spoke often of the treasure hunt, which can exist in expected as well as the unexpected places. It’s a matter if adding surprise elements. Talented store employees can present products in ways that break free of typical pairings. These displays will tap into the shopper’s creative vein and elevate the experience into an adventure.
  • Talk to her like a person. Stop selling. Digital natives (young shoppers) have been deciphering marketing pitches since before they could read. Tell them about your products in clear, honest terms so they feel empowered to make their own decisions, not have them made for them.
  • Encourage community. From the Middle Eastern marketplaces of old, shopping has been a social experience. Music, unexpected bites to eat, craft classes and entertainment all complement the trip. They may not always have time to indulge in a cup of Americano or song, but they’ll know it’s there. And that is enough to get the shopper to come back, as Kaci put it, for the moments.

For more How America Shops® data and insights on how Gen Z shops give us a buzz.

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