They may fall at the end of the alphabet, but retailers are about to witness the first truly digital-native generation come into its own: Introducing, Generation Z. The next wave of young people coming of age has a certain outlook that could have a major impact on society.
But for those looking to bunch them with the older millennial crowd, be warned: It may be a whole new game for retailers and marketers who wish to reach them.
First, who are they?
As with most parameters defining generations, there’s no strict agreement about when Generation Z begins and ends. Some define the cohort as beginning with those born in 1990, others say it includes those born during the years 1995-2001; many experts are settling on 1995. Essentially, these are kids born roughly between 1990 and 2010. Many were eleven at the time of 9/11 and graduated from high school as the economy was collapsing.
There are a lot of "gen zeds"; a quarter of the U.S. population falls within the group. A slideshow on Gen Z by New York City advertising agency Sparks & Honey has made the rounds and neatly encapsulates much of the early thinking about this group, their worldview, and their interests.
Keep in mind that this narrow definition of a generation glosses over people's individual experiences, personalities, and preferences and essentially only applies to Western/First World countries. That said, one of their most defining characteristics, and something that helps Gen Z'ers define their experience? They haven’t known the world without the internet, even for a minute.
Gen Z’ers have several connected screens at their disposal and communicate with images at least as much as with text. “Connected” is apparently a great word for this generation because they are used to being connected at all times and have a sense of connectedness — with friends, with information, with problem-solving tools — within an almost boundary-less global world.
It’s not surprising that people who come of age as the world economy crash lands would be more interested in achieving success than being discovered or achieving their dreams. The world has made them a practical bunch, without much regard for brand loyalty. They have access to easy ways to mix and match their interests and, some say, even their sense of self.
Members of this group tend to be highly accepting of diversity — in racial and gender terms — caring of the planet, and interested in behaving in socially responsible ways.
In conversations with 400 Gen Zers, The Cassandra Report found that this group is not necessarily overwhelmed by its challenges, great though they may be, but takes a pragmatic approach that assumes a wealth of data and expertise at their disposal.
Gen Z consumers
This all adds up to a generation of digitally connected, always connected pragmatists who might switch up their loyalty to brands whenever they feel the need. They’re going to be careful with their money because the economic crash of 2008 showed them firsthand how fragile finances can be, and careful in general because 9/11 showed them how fragile their world can be. It's also the age of National Security Agency appropriation of data from, apparently, anyone, so they are wary of spying and interested in privacy yet resigned to some amount of intrusion.
Perhaps because of their youth, their following in the footsteps of dreamy millennials, or because they are texting and on social media at almost all times, it can be all too easy to underestimate this generation.
And despite their assumption that everyone and everything is connected, Gen Z is actually more likely than older generations to turn off geolocating services and go incognito when it suits them.
These are things that will give marketers and retailers fits as they try to reach members of this generation, but they will likely bring exciting innovations and new ways of looking at the world that are valuable to us, says Kathy Savitt, currently Yahoo’s chief marketing officer and founder of social commerce site Ador (formerly Lockerz), writing for Mashable.
“What does generation Z care about? Finding and sharing the best stuff in the world. They aren’t just consumers, they are curators. They not only discover brands and products but they evaluate them with brilliant objectivity, sift through them, and share the results,” Savitt writes. “Please a generation Z-er with your particular product or service and you’ll earn your biggest supporter.”
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