Targeting Gen Z: Who Are They and What Do They Want?

gen ZGeneration Z comprises youngsters born between the years 1996 – 2010. Though the oldest of the group are just graduating college and entering the workforce, they already hold $44 billion in buying power, and by 2020 Gen Z will make up one-third of the U.S. population. They will be even larger than their Millennial predecessors in terms of both population and spending power. Overall, this group is on track to have a large impact on retail and buying behavior.

Who is Gen Z?

Gen Z grew up post-9/11 and in the middle of The Great Recession. The parents of this demographic are members of Generation X and older Millennials, the groups most severely impacted by The Great Recession. Many of Gen Z’s parents lost jobs or sources of income, leading them to spend more time with their children, but also teaching their children jobs are difficult to come by, and not guaranteed.


Gen Z is the first generation of true digital natives, earning them the title the iGeneration. Generation Z doesn’t remember life before smartphone technology. Millennials made the switch, but for Gen Z, these milestones are the norm.

Post (or Anti) Millennials

Millennials came of age during a time of economic expansion but unexpectedly entered a diminished, unwelcoming job market after college. Generation Z, however, was shaped by the recession and is prepared to fight hard to create a stable future for themselves. A survey by Lincoln Financial Group found that Gen Z is saving far earlier than older generations: 60% of them already have savings accounts and 71% say they are focused on saving for the future.

Unlike Millennials, who prioritize experiences such as traveling and spending time with friends, Gen Z’s top three priorities are getting a job, finishing college, and safeguarding money for the years to come. In this way, Gen Z is most similar to the Greatest Generation, who came of age in the Great Depression.

What Do They Want?

What does this financially savvy, post-Millennial cohort actually want from retailers? Believe it or not, they want to shop in-store. 77% of Gen Z prefers brick and mortar shopping. As independent retailers, this is great news. There are a few key values that stand out to this generation, which can separate your business from the competition.


As digital natives, Gen Z is accustomed to having all information available at all times. They want to understand how you’re doing business and what your model is. If they purchase from you, they want to know what their money is going towards.

With all the information available online, it’s easy for Gen Z consumers to find out if the quality of a product meets expectations and if the ingredients or manufacturing processes are true to advertising. Following through on promises made in your advertising and in your company mission is important to this younger generation.


We know this group is financially responsible. But, that doesn’t mean we’re on a price race to the bottom. For Gen Z’ers factors such as the quality and longevity of the product, and whether it is fair trade or environmentally friendly also play a role in determining the overall value of each purchase. For example, they might pay a little more for an organic, Made in the USA cotton tee than one from a fast fashion retailer, produced overseas.

In-Store Curation

As we’ve seen on the news over the past year, many retailers are opting for smaller sized stores and changing up their layouts. In-store, Gen Z shoppers are looking for curation. They’re looking for advice, recommendations, and personalization. If they want to browse through your entire inventory, it’s way easier to do that online. Make sure you are providing something in-store that’s not available online; human expertise and recommendations.

Online Efficiency

One of the top reasons a member of Gen Z will shop online rather than in-store? Not having to wait in line. So if they don’t want to wait in line in a store, they don’t want to wait around online. Gen Z has little patience for imperfect user experiences. 60% of surveyed Generation Z members will not use an app or website that is too slow to load, and 62% won’t use an app if it’s difficult to navigate. In short, if you can’t reach Generation Z in less than five seconds, you can’t reach them at all. This means brands must simplify their customer journey and make it completely seamless as one false click could send a Gen Z customer astray

Cross-Channel Consistency

To these young shoppers, the lines between digital and physical are increasingly blurred. It’s not online shopping or in-store shopping; it’s just shopping. They expect a consistent experience no matter where or how they interact with you. This means that retailers must create a cohesive cross-channel experience with messaging that focuses on your product and quality

Gen ZHow Can You Reach Gen Z?

Mobile First

Almost 50% of Gen Z is online for 10 or more hours per day. 96% of Gen Z owns a smartphone. And, 85% of Gen Z uses social media to find new products. So, if you’re looking to market to this audience, mobile is the best place to start.

Distrust of Traditional Marketing

Less than 25% of members of Gen Z have a positive perception of traditional online advertising. Generally, Gen Z trusts what other people say about your company more than what you say about your company. 63% of Gen Z prefers to see real people in advertisements. They also look to friends and family for product recommendations.

As retailers, be sure to include product reviews on your site and even incorporate them into your store. Incorporating Instagram into your website is another easy way to show off how customers are using your products and which ones are popular right now.

Leverage Influencers

Today’s teens and young adults are not naive: Many know that Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube stars are paid to endorse products. In fact, the FTC now requires influencers to disclose when they are paid to endorse a product. But, Gen Z trusts that the people they follow on social media are making a conscious decision about the brands they will work with.

Good News for Retailers

Overall, Gen Z is good news for retailers, particularly independent businesses. First, Gen Z is willing and able to spend. Their buying power is already $44 billion. They will represent 40% of the world’s consumers by 2020. And, their conversion rate is two times that of the rest of the population. Unlike many Millennials, members of Gen Z will invest in things over experiences. And over two-thirds prefer to shop in-store. By providing a transparent, curated, and engaging shopping experience, you’ll win over the hearts and spending power of this up and coming generation.