Our website uses cookies

Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing Essential Retail Magazine, you agree to our use of cookies.

Okay, I understand Learn more

RetailEXPO 2019 speaker Katie Baron of Stylus on Gen Z shoppers

What makes Generation Z consumers so different to those who have gone before?

Gen Z is distinctly different to any previous demographic because it’s the first generation of true digital natives, a group for whom technological change and social media, but also a volatile economic climate and an inherent sense of individualism, have reshaped the way they think, communicate and consume in comparison to their predecessors.

They’re agile and ambitious but in comparison to millennials they’re far more risk-averse, pragmatic and seeking reassurances – traits providing ample opportunities for brands that are willing to step in and provide genuine support. However, it’s important to note that retail success here isn’t about capitalising on insecurities, it’s about the win/win of helping consumers to help themselves.  

Are retailers adapting quickly enough to what Gen Z customers expect, or is more radical action required?

Most are struggling with the technological aspect - providing retail ecosystems that truly bridge the online/offline divide (important for any generation but especially this one) or allow Gen Z consumers to interactive and adapt the spaces or digital platforms they using. The connections need to be seamless but also ongoing, like a conversation that can be paused and then continued. 

However, there’s also a lot of myth and contradiction that’s affecting creating successful connections with Gen Z. There’s a tendency to fetishize every new generation, lay on them the sense that they’ve arrived to solve all of society’s problems by assuming they’re bolder, wilder and more activist than the generation before. But this is a group desperately seeking out help to perform, fulfil their potential or find meaningful connections with others. Those are key sweet spots for brands, too. 

Traditional retailers such as department stores can seem irrelevant to Gen Z shoppers. Is this the case, or might we see them start to appeal to Gen Z as they get older?

Gen Z consumers are actually very positive about physical brand spaces and in real life (IRL) activities so I think the issue here is more about re-thinking the role of the department store, as opposed to simply waiting and hoping this generation will come around to the existing model in time. For instance, we’re already seeing a new generation of department stores that are behaving more like expo centres - spaces that refresh themselves on a regular basis akin to digital retailing. Showfields in New York is a key example: a four-storey, 15,000 sq ft space in New York’s Noho district that’s aiming to establish itself as a department store for digital start-ups keen to trial the appeal of physical retailing.

Are Gen Z shoppers as obsessed with technology as some retailers seem to think they are? Might there be more effective ways to grab their attention?

It’s less about an obsession with technology than it is technology simply being built into the very fabric of their lives, wherever they are (digital, virtual, IRL). As mentioned, this is the first generation that have grown up as digital natives so consider Gen Z as a post-channel generation, which simply doesn’t see a dividing line between on and offline.

In terms of grabbing attention we’re also seeing significant success from ticketed, branded (temporary) lifestyle festivals that are focused on creating scenes. These are initiatives that connect to the desire to meet likeminded individuals (a hangout mentality)and foster self-expression and upskilling while presenting serious brand buzz. It’s happening with the streetwear scene – not only ComplexCon but Sole DXB in Dubai, and beauty – BeautyCon; Sephora’s Sephoria – House of Beauty; Mecca’s Meccaland; and DM’s House of Glow. 

Katie Baron is head of retail at trend intelligence company Stylus. She will be presenting Dynamic Youth – The New Brand Strategies at Retail Expo on 1 May at 10.50 on the Marketing & Branding Stage