Generation Z: Key shopping trends affecting a generation buying into itself

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Callum Saunders, Zeal Creative

Callum Saunders, Head of Planning at Zeal Creative, whose offices are in MediaCityUK, Manchester, and Hatton Gardens, London, explores what really motivates the often-misunderstood generation - drawing on their research titled 'Buying Into Better'.

Generational stereotyping can be an over simplified way of segmenting audiences. Human behaviour is inherently complex, and relying on neatly-defined (yet largely unrepresentative) labels is often an exercise in ‘marketing to the marketers’.

However, at a macro level, Gen Z - the newest consumer cohort with spending power - is entering the market with unique contextual factors informing and shaping its approach to shopping and consumerism.

It’s easy to dismiss ‘Gen Z’ as yet another marketing buzzword. But by looking closely at the nuances of how this new generation is shopping, brands have the opportunity to capitalise on a passionate, progressive and purposeful shopper audience.

From Free-From, to Free-To

While society is becoming more aware of free-from products and alternatives, it is Gen Z shoppers who are truly driving this shift through their spending habits. A more informed generation is waking up to the different benefits of certain products, buying into them no longer as ‘problem-solution’ products, but products that offer them specific (and well-researched) benefits.

From meat alternatives to lactose-free milk, Gen Z shoppers are helping to drive the category, as ‘free-from’ becomes ‘free-to’ - free to live a more selective and informed dietary lifestyle that has individual benefits for the consumer.

Losing the labels

We’ve heard the term ‘flexitarian’, and veganism has never been more in vogue. But brands seeking to engage Gen Z need to be careful when applying ‘labels’ to a generation of shoppers that don’t wish to be labelled.

Gen Z shoppers are more fluid, buying into products, lifestyles, food and drink that fuels their thirst for constant newness, experimentation and curation. Just as we can’t label a generation and assume that they all act and feel the same, assigning lifestyle labels to certain products might miss the more holistic benefits for this changing shopper generation.

Buying into better: purchase as a force for good

With the world facing new and difficult environmental challenges, the very system of capitalism itself is coming under increased scrutiny. However, for a socially-conscious Gen Z audience, brands can offer a way to literally "buy into better".

Generation Z has come of age at a time when traditional institutions are failing them. Yet some brands offer Gen Z shoppers an alternative, able to provide the ethical and sustainable products that Gen Z crave, through a purpose and back-story that they can buy into.

Whilst this landscape typically consists of entrepreneurial, smaller and independent brands and businesses, larger corporates and established brands still have the power to tap into and help drive this shopper behaviour, as long as they give shoppers more to buy into than the product itself. 

Buying into ‘me’

Whilst millennials have been labelled as self-obsessed and entitled, their Gen Z counterparts are also focused on self, but in a much more self-aware fashion.

Still children during the economic crash of 2007/8, this generation of shoppers has grown up surrounded by economic turmoil and uncertainty. The freedom and fluidity craved by millennials has been usurped by a desire for security and satisfaction amongst a more entrepreneurial Gen Z audience.

Gen Z shoppers are not materialistic; but they do have a greater appreciation for the value of material objects. Purchases are often a considered investment and the rise of display décor, health and wellness products, and items for the home, is a reflection of a shopper generation that is buying into themselves.

Loyalty to the new 

If you listen to the commentators (whoever they are) Gen Z is a more fickle, disloyal shopper audience. But to follow that school of thought is not only inaccurate, it misses the true insight that is driving changing shopper behaviour.

Gen Z is the first truly ‘digital native’ audience, and technology has actively conditioned them to constantly seek the new. Yes, they might look around for better prices, but more importantly, cooler things.  

In such a visual world, shopper purchases are a cultural currency that Gen Z shoppers need to continually invest in. Brands need not focus their efforts on loyalty to the same (few) products, but a programme of constant innovation and invigoration that gives these modern shoppers the diversity that they want to buy into.

Next-gen shopper behaviour 

The study of individual shoppers, shopper subcultures and retail channels will always throw up hundreds of different nuances and individualities, making a mass ‘generational shopper profile’ redundant. However, it’s also undeniable that deep-rooted attitudes, beliefs and behaviours are being shaped by the context of the world around us, and for a new shopper generation, these shopper behaviours are the start of a lifelong journey.

Fuelled by a series of macro trends and micro influences, Gen Z is a new breed of product-focused shoppers, redefining notions of value through purchases that are also political and purposeful.