By Frank Mayer and Associates, Inc. 

Once upon a time, it was all about the millennials.

There’s probably a terrible joke in there somewhere, considering the fact this group is often plagued with the reputation of being the “participation trophy” generation.

Kidding aside, for years, millennials have frequently stolen news headlines that highlight the powerful group’s impact on consumerism, the changing workforce, and even the shifting trends on how we communicate with each other.

But in the last few months, several industry newsletters have appeared in my inbox with surprising editorial about the upcoming generation, dubbed Gen Z.  Have millennials officially passed the baton to the next up-and-comers who will be the driving force behind retail and marketing trends?

Spoiler alert, Marketers: you’ll want to get your game plan ready for this group.  Quickly.

As with all generation groupings, there’s often discrepancy amongst the various sources regarding which birth years make up the classification.  Most cite the oldest Gen Z’ers being born in 1996.  Regardless, this group of teenagers and early 20-somethings have become a much-talked-about dynamo as people start looking to the post-millennial era.

To understand the impact this latest generation will have on retail and branding, one must first understand the collective mentality ascribed to the group.

genz-impact-shopping.jpgIt should come as no surprise in our digital culture that a defining feature of this generation is being continuously connected, naturally shifting between an online and offline world without friction.  And while millennials are instinctively comfortable with technology due to growing up in the Internet era, Gen Z brings the term digital natives to a whole new, mobile-friendly level – the soundtrack to their lives sn’t the click of a mouse, but the tap of a thumb.

Along with boasting a natural ease navigating mobile technology, this latest generation also expects lightning-fast Internet speeds, enjoys easy access to instant information, and are often champions behind social causes.

As consumers, they tend to be pragmatic with their spending.  After all, this generation’s formative years were spent witnessing a major financial recession in 2007 and 2008.  Furthermore, they’re wary of more traditional marketing initiatives in favor of recommendations and product reviews and prefer to engage with a product versus viewing it behind glass door displays.

To reach this generation of social media connoisseurs, brands will need to meet them on their turf while speaking a language that resonates.  According to a white paper titled, “Uniquely Generation Z: What brands should know about today’s youngest consumers” by IBM Institute for Business Value and in association with the National Retail Federation, when asked what they do in their free time, 74 percent of Gen Z respondents listed spending time online.

Naturally, marketers would be wise to engage these individuals using social media and mobile opportunities while utilizing easily-absorbable media and messages like video and push notifications.

This group is also savvy about tuning out ads in fast-paced newsfeeds and media, so companies should aim to pique interest using branded or socially-conscious content that aims to help, inform or entertain.  Companies who team up with trusted peer influencers or encourage this generation’s feedback will additionally have a leg up against the brands employing more traditional advertising.

Appealing to the group’s mobile astuteness, companies can provide seamless shopping by offering mobile apps to complement the in-store experience.  This self-reliant generation will feel comfortable in a familiar mobile environment, using it to shop, peruse reviews and communicate with customer service.

When it comes to designing store displays and kiosks that will attract this age group’s attention, brands and retailers will want to be mindful of implementing experiential components.  As a generation accustomed to self-directed learning (thank you, YouTube), they’ll appreciate accessible products that can be viewed, touched and manipulated.

Self-service kiosks will also be a beacon to this crew to eliminate checkout hassles, long lines and reliance on store employees.  This trend toward self-order kiosks, wayfinding stations and check-in units has already started to emerge in restaurants and stores today as the technology is embraced by this next generation.

In sum, with retail already undergoing monumental shifts in operations to stay relevant in a changing market, these same companies will need to keep their fingers on the pulse of this next generation to produce an experience that speaks their language and captures their spending dollars.

Photo Credit: iStockPhoto.com

 

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