Gen Z Consumer Behavior: What You Need to Know

Marketing
-
May 7, 2021
Henry Bewicke
Henry Bewicke
Promotions Advisor
4
Min to read

When you hear the term ‘Gen Z’, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? It’s probably some variation of the ‘young person who spends too much time on their phone’ stereotype.

That may be an accurate representation of some members of Gen Z. But, like most stereotypes, it's wrong to assume they're all this way.

As the youngest adult generation, Generation Z is often confused with the millennials. Both grew up around digital technology, and they share some similar characteristics as a result.

But Gen Z (often individually referred to as Zoomers) is different to the millennial generation. And that’s something all businesses should be aware of. If you want to build a relationship with your Gen Z customers, first you need to understand what motivates them.

So, in this blog post we’ll outline Gen Z’s core characteristics, their consumer behaviors, and then explain some promotional techniques businesses can use to reach them.

Who is Gen Z?

We’ve previously discussed the consumer behaviors of the baby boomers and the millennials in another blog post. These generations were the main focus of media attention for many years, often being pitted against each other as supposed ideological enemies. This is mainly because they grew up in different socioeconomic climates, and they have different world-views as a result.

A pink cake with 'GEN Z' written on top in icing

However, Gen Z is becoming an increasingly important part of the workforce. And Gen Z'ers are becoming increasingly powerful in terms of purchasing power and disposable income.

Gen Z spans the years 1997 to 2010, although these dates vary depending on who you ask. As of now, Gen Z ranges in age from 11 to 24. This puts them at an interesting crossroad.

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The elder half of the generation is now legally classed as adult, and many individuals have already entered the workforce. The tail end of the generation, on the other hand, is still in school. These younger zoomers won’t gain any sort of financial independence for quite a while, and they'll probably change our current understanding of their generation as they get older.

In terms of formative socioeconomic influences, Gen Z has already lived through a few defining events. While the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Gen Z especially hard, it's not the only major economic downturn they've lived through. The first was the great recession of 2007-2009.

While the youngest individuals in Gen Z hadn’t even been born at this point, the effects of the great recession were most certainly felt by their families.

The effects of the recession lasted many years, severely impacting the job market. This had a knock-on effect on attitudes towards higher education and the popularity of certain subjects.

Statistically, young people today are much more likely to study STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering or Maths) subjects and much less likely to study humanities than their counterparts a decade ago.

A graphic showing the change in the number of US bachelor's graduates by subject

This preference for 'secure' degrees matches other observations about Gen Z. They’re generally more financially pragmatic than millennials, and they tend to be more risk averse. However, one thing they do have in common with millennials is a strong belief in social causes and corporate responsibility.

Gen Z consumer characteristics

Gen Z’ers consumer characteristics tend to reflect their pragmatic approach to money and education. Other key influences are their affinity for technology, their belief in social causes, and a strong individualistic streak.

We now have a clearer understanding of Gen Z than we did five years ago. But there’s still a bit of confusion around what they like, how they act, and what businesses need to do to appeal to them.

In general, Gen Z'ers display the following consumer behavior:

  • They tend to be ‘informed consumers’, and will often research and weigh up options before making a buying decision
  • They tend to be much less attached to specific brands, instead preferring to shop around for the best deal
  • They place high importance on brand ethics and corporate responsibility, even more so than Millennials
  • Out of all the generations, they’re the most likely to shop via social media

While Gen Z'ers are price conscious, they aren’t as price-centric as some previous generations. Products and brands need to show a mixture of value, quality and ethical practices to tap into the Gen Z wallet.

When it comes to shopping, Gen Z'ers show the following preferences:

  • Despite being the most online generation, Gen Z likes shopping in-store
  • They also like having real shop assistants to help them with queries
  • Gen Z'ers have high expectations as consumers, both in terms of customer service and product quality
  • They like individualized shopping experiences that can be tailored to their own personal preferences

In fact, a survey conducted by IBM found that product choice, availability, convenience and value are the top influencing factors for Gen Z when choosing shopping channels.

Interestingly, Gen Z also has significantly more influence over the consumer market than their actual spending power would suggest. That’s because they have a big influence on their parents' buying decisions and wider product trends.

A group of young Gen Z'ers standing on some steps

Implications for retailers

As you probably gathered from the points above, Gen Z'ers share many consumer characteristics with Millennials. In this sense, retailers shouldn’t worry too much about having to completely reinvent their marketing strategy just for Gen Z.

However, there are some key considerations to bear in mind when setting yourself up to sell to the Gen Z market.

Firstly, you’ll stand the best chance of capturing as many customers as possible if you follow an omnichannel strategy. Although this is true of all generations, it’s especially so when it comes to Gen Z. They use many different channels to shop (including social media), and they respond well to personalized experiences/messaging.

You should also start thinking about how socially aware your brand is. The occasional post on social media about current trending causes isn’t good enough.

The younger generations are acutely aware of what’s genuine and what’s not when it comes to brands publicizing how socially aware they are.

You should be investing in initiatives that benefit the local community, the environment, important causes, etc. Your Gen Z customers will be able to tell if you’re genuinely interested in these things, and they’ll be much more inclined to shop with you as a result.

Targeting Gen Z with promotions

So, given everything we’ve mentioned so far, what’s the best way to target Gen Z using promotions? It might not be as straightforward as it is with the older generation. But, with a little creativity, you can set up promotions that will really help you connect with younger consumers.

First, you need to focus on personalized rewards and experiences.

Gen Z’ers respond well to personalized messaging, and they want to see the value in what they pay for. If you can tie your special offers and rewards into social media, then you’ll be even better positioned to reach your Gen Z target audience. 

Alternatively you could capitalize on Gen Z’s affinity for micro-influencers and social med ia. Giving relevant micro-influencers their own unique referral codes to share with their followers has great potential as a promotion marketing campaign. Pick your micro-influencers well to help build a solid Gen Z customer base.

But remember, Gen Z'ers aren't loyal when it comes to brands. So you'll need to stay on your toes to keep them interested with new offers, products, and great customer service.

So, to recap

Many people mistake Gen Z for the millennials. While they are similar in many ways, businesses stand to lose out if they fail to optimize their marketing and promotion techniques for Gen Z. So, here are three key points to keep in mind:

  • Gen Z'ers are pragmatic, informed consumers, so you need to offer them products and promotions with real value
  • They're also very socially aware, so you should be thinking of ways to become a more responsible brand
  • Gen Z'ers switch between channels frequently, so you should consider implementing an omnichannel strategy if you haven't already
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Engage customers with gamified promotions
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