Today’s consumers comprise more generations than ever — Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z. Each of these groups is uniquely different from one another, and even within these generations, there are micro-generations that impact the consumer and their patterns. The challenge retailers face providing a customer experience that fits them all, but specifically how to tailor customer experience for Gen Z.
Gen Z is different from any of the previous generations. They are growing up in a near-fully digital world, regularly use multiple smart devices, and have come to expect personalized experiences. However, what sets Gen Z apart is their behavior as consumers — they are less concerned with brand loyalty and “fitting in” with everyone else. What they want is access to products or services.
For Gen Z, it’s not about owning the product, it’s about the accessibility those products provide. According to McKinsey, “products become services, and services connect consumers.”
Ray Sheehan, owner of Old City Media, noticed the shift in consumer behavior during the pandemic and how everyone had to adapt. Watching his wife teach and his daughter learn during this time made him realize just how much information is readily available. He knew this would be important as the focus shifted from millennials to Gen Z as primary consumers because they value information and want to know everything about the brand before purchasing.
Gen Z-ers are often slower to make a purpose purchase, so the customer journey is extended. As such, there are three main ideas to consider when tailoring marketing efforts to the Gen Z customer experience.
Sustainable energy and environmental responsibility
Gen Z has grown up listening to millennials fight about the environmental crisis but has also grown up to find more sustainable options compared to millennials. Environmental conservancy and awareness about excess consumption have always been a part of their lives.
“Gen Z grew up with Greta Thunberg and other younger people like them standing up to adults and demanding what they feel is right. Sustainability isn’t just something they look for in their purchasing decisions,” Sheehan says. “it’s a norm they have come to expect.”
When tailoring the customer experience to Gen Z, companies must prove that they care about the environment and their sustainability initiatives. It’s not enough to create a product to offset their carbon footprint; it’s about intentionally creating an environmentally conscious product.
“This is a generation that has made thrifting cool and looks for ‘sustainably created’ on the tags of the clothes they purchase,” Sheehan adds. “Millennials may have started the trend, but Gen Z expects nothing less. Millennials go out of their way to fight for something and make the purchase, whereas Gen Z will turn away and find a brand already doing what they expect.”
Retail pop-up events to promote corporate social responsibility
Dubbed the “True Gen,” Gen Z seeks truth and accountability regarding brands and the videos they consume on social media. As a result, they build stronger relationships and want proof of social responsibility from the brands they purchase from.
“Pop-ups are an excellent way to provide a temporary physical stand for online companies and a great way to stand up for a cause and build trust with the Gen Z consumer,” Sheehan says. “Planning pop-ups with a specific cause will attract the Gen Z consumer.”
For example, at Old City Media, Sheehan started the GIFT program to be customer focused and help engagement with specific brands and the brick-and-mortar store. The idea is to set up a small area at a bigger retail store (i.e., AT&T, Leaf Home, etc.) and hand out free gift cards. The reason can be for any social event, but this gets consumers in the door and spending more than the free gift card.
Celebrating diversity and inclusion
DEI has been a key buzzword for the past several years in the business world. While companies try to figure out how to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workforce, Gen Z expects it as a customer experience.
“This newer generation doesn’t care about fitting in and looking like everyone else,” Sheehan explains. “They want to be their authentic selves and relate to vibes and aesthetics more than the look itself or the brand. It’s about embracing diversity and including personalized experiences for the consumer.”
Several brands have started to not only advertise different races and ethnicities but have also incorporated diverse ages, sizes, disabilities, and more into their marketing. For example, Glossier meets Gen Z where they are providing them with lifestyle articles versus just selling them a product. Gen Z expects this kind of diversity and inclusion in every brand they consume.
Ray Sheehan cares deeply about his community and building relationships with businesses. He understands Gen Z because of their deep need for authenticity and connection. “The digital world didn’t isolate this generation,” he says. “It’s bringing them together and making them a smarter, more aware generation.”