Many retail observers and experts have similar advice for success: provide a data-driven, personalized shopping experience; make transactions as convenient as possible; and engage with shoppers on social media and through influencers.
Brands should surely implement these strategies to see what works for them. Our recommendation for engaging with Gen Z shoppers — 18 to 24 year olds that make 40 percent of total retail purchases — is to focus on the basics, such as employing store associates who are knowledgeable and friendly.
It may seem surprising, but in Retail Zipline’s survey of 1,000 members of a generation that grew up online, 69 percent said they would take fashion advice from store associates. That’s right, they want to engage with a person. When these shoppers enter a store, 65 percent said they prefer a hands-on approach, as opposed to seeking out service when needed (only 35 percent prefer the latter). Forty-one percent of our surveyed Gen Zers especially want to engage with store associates if they like what they're wearing.
A fifth of Gen Zers reported genuine relationships with specific store associates would lead them to visit a brand again and again. This also means most of these consumers would prefer to shop in stores that remain in one location for a long time, as opposed to a pop-up — only a tenth of our respondents said they shop at these short-term retailers.
But what about influencers? Data from Morning Consult indicates that nearly three-quarters of surveyed Gen Z and millennial consumers follow influencers on social media, while half of both groups reported that they trust those influencers to provide good advice on what they’re promoting. While less than half of Gen Z respondents don’t implement trends they see on Instagram into their own fashion choices, this shows the power of influencers who do provide that inspiration for their followers, like Kylie Jenner. Celebrities don’t even play into the equation, with a mere 7 percent saying they look to them for style inspiration.
Most of our respondents, 82 percent, said they’re more likely to buy from brands that employ ethical business practices, and 66 percent said they value fair treatment of employees. Well-treated workers are even more important to Gen Zers than eco-friendly packaging, ethical sourcing, philanthropy and carrying vegan products.
The findings indicate that, much like their millennial cohorts, Gen Zers are socially conscious and care deeply about issues regarding social justice and the environment. They want to support businesses that share their views and are invested in supporting their communities.
Furthermore, Gen Zers value authenticity and marketing that centers on “real” people, which is true for individuals across the gender spectrum. For brands to win over these young shoppers, they must create opportunities to genuinely connect with them and be a part of their community.
Getting Back to Real
As a generation that grew up with endless e-commerce options, Gen Z’s preference for socially conscious, real-world experiences makes sense. No matter how much we digitize all aspects of our lives, shoppers of all ages like getting recommendations from people who seem aligned with their beliefs and aspirations. This preference is more profound for Gen Z. They know when they’re being advertised to and don’t trust celebrity endorsements as much as previous generations.
At the same time, they’re connected to and learning from people around the world more than ever before. We see this very clearly with the rise of micro-influencers on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
At the local level, store associates have always been capable of being the best micro-influencers. Older generations, including mine, went through a period of commissioned salespeople that soured us on store employees, but Gen Z shoppers haven’t had that experience. They go into a store to connect with and learn from real people. The passion and excitement you get any time you’re in a lululemon or Lush Cosmetics store are hard to ignore. It’s clear that the store employees are well-informed and treated with respect by their employer.
At the end of the day, the retail store experience is the best representation of a brand, and store associates are the key ingredients that make it work. Retailers that understand this and execute towards it are winning both online and in-store. Retailers that don’t prioritize hiring, training and quality communication will find it difficult to keep a new generation of shoppers coming back for more.
What would you like to see retailers implement in 2020? Tell us in the comments section below.
Methodology: Retail Zipline surveyed 1,007 men and women via the online platform SurveyMonkey to better understand Gen Z’s shopping preferences. Those surveyed were based in the United States and were between the ages of 18-24. This survey was administered from Oct. 21, 2019 - Oct. 24, 2019.
Jeremy Baker is co-founder and chief technology officer of Retail Zipline, an effective and intuitive retail communications solution.
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