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Socialising with Generation Z

Forget Millennials, the new consumer group to know are the Generation Z shoppers – otherwise known as iGen, post-millennials or screenagers.

Generation Z shoppers, defined as those aged between 12 and 19 years old, currently number about 6 million and make up 9% of the UK population. They may be young and have a relatively low disposable income now, compared with older generations, but retailers need to ensure they are ready for when this new wave of consumers really hits.

Having an understanding of the Generation Z shopper and how to adapt marketing, digital and store strategies to appeal to them is imperative for retailers to begin gaining traction with the next generation of consumers. As the first true digital natives who have never known life without the internet and mobiles, Generation Z expects seamless links between in-store, online and social channels as the norm, and hanker for instant gratification – whether in terms of securing social feedback, product availability or website load times.

Over the last five years we have also seen the rise of bloggers and vloggers. Generation Z is the main consumer group that is heavily influenced by them

Research by Ipsos Mori found that two-thirds of UK teenagers have a smartphone by the time they are 13. Keen to secure their own space online, many are moving away from established social media platforms such as Facebook, which are occupied by older generations, in favour of new communities likes Yik Yak, Kik and Shots. What is more, they are seeking more privacy and smaller pools for sharing online through instant messaging services such as WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Among the retailers already experimenting with tapping into this new shopper are Burberry, which previewed its spring 16 collection ahead of the catwalk on Snapchat, and then used the social media channel to release exclusive live footage of its spring 16 campaign as it was being filmed by celebrity photographer Mario Testino.

Topshop brought in fashion fashion website ShowStudio’s Nick Knight to photograph its autumn 16 Unique catwalk, and the images were instantly uploaded on to Instagram, while GoPro cameras captured his creative process via live streaming app Periscope.

‘Always on’ generation

Neil Blackburn, brand manager at footwear retailer Schuh, describes Gen Z shoppers as “the first generation that has always been ‘always on’”.

He adds: “Their hours of media consumption are more or less equal to their hours spent awake. They are the peer-to-peer generation and discovering and sharing content is everything.”

Blackburn explains the opportunity to reach these shoppers is via Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, where brands can “inspire and influence rather than sell”.

However, he warns retailers could get into trouble if they appear “inauthentic” and mistake content and tone.

“The biggest pitfall for brands is behaving like a brand and wading into social spaces with their big advertising budget in hand expecting to sell to them. It requires effort and craft. This, he says, includes providing “compelling product stories” alongside “fun, interesting and snackable content”: “We love Snapchat and the opportunity to be personal and playful with people who love our brand. WhatsApp, on the other hand, has proved a harder one to crack and very few brands appear to have made a meaningful impact here.”

Urban Outfitters’ multimedia creative director Nabil Aliffi believes Gen Z’s digital acumen means they are “more intuitive shoppers, knowing exactly where to look for information or the best deals”.

“While millennials have shown to be comfortable with adopting new technologies, Generation Z go a step further by demonstrating a desire to be part of the authorship of that digital experience. They choose which channels to take the dialogue to and we have seen the conversations move from one platform to another. They want to be able to shape the environment in which they shop, whether physical or digital.”

He adds: “Wherever possible we try to create digital ‘third spaces’, where customers can browse, share or simply hang out. We found success in adopting a less formal tone of voice when speaking to customers in these third spaces, often on selected social media platforms like Snapchat. In many cases, it is about going in to win customer loyalty as opposed to swooping in for the next sale.”

For Josie Roscop, customer director at River Island, the focus for retailers should be on making the shopping process “as seamless and time-efficient as possible, ensuring we are providing fashion 24 hours a day, seven days a week”, while bloggers are becoming an essential marketing resource.

“Over the last five years, we have also seen the rise of bloggers and vloggers, tuning in to watch ’shopping hauls’ on YouTube or scrolling through Instagram. These influencers are integral to a brand’s strategy, and it’s up to us to find new, interesting ways of working with them.”

Redefining celebrity

Sharon Forder, senior marketing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at ecommerce tech provider Demandware, agrees, saying celebrity is taking on a different meaning for Gen Z compared to millennials.

“Celebrities for Gen Z are not those that retailers are still turning to, like the Kardashians, but bloggers like Zoella. If their celebrity is wearing a particular brand it suddenly becomes important. Celebrity has been redefined and retailers need to embrace that.”

She adds: “They are realists and want to see things that reflect the reality of their world. They don’t want stick-thin models, they want to see people that look and feel like them. It’s easier to do research on Gen Z than it ever has been as they live their life online. Do some social listening in environments like Instagram and Snapchat. You don’t need to do focus groups.”

This generation wants to go into a store to try on product, take a photo, use magic mirrors and then look at those images from home, assess and share them before buying online

With their zealous use of mobile said to have given rise to just an eight-second attention span across this cohort, personalisation is becoming ever-more important to ensure the right content is presented to the individual in an extremely short window. But this also extends to personalisation of specific products, as Rosie Hartman, strategy consultant at retail adviser Pragma Consulting, believes Gen Z is seeking out a more unique and individual look.

“Abercrombie & Fitch was the millennials’ brand five to 10 years ago as a kind of preppy uniform but now Gen Z doesn’t have that uniform aspect. They really want to create their own unique look. Forever 21 and Primark are so popular, offering a lot of different styles at low prices, so [customers] can create their own style. They are less brand loyal. For them it’s more about specific products. Personalisation is huge for this generation as they don’t want to look the same as everyone else.”

But it is not just about attracting this generation online; stores also need to be revamped to cater for their needs.

Physical connection

“The need to connect digital with physical is really important,” says Forder. “This generation wants to go into a store to try on product, take a photo, use magic mirrors and then look at those images from home, assess and share them before buying online.”

Nigel Collett, chief executive of interior design firm RPA Group, says 69% of Gen Z shoppers will want to use physical stores, so retailers should consider creating dedicated spaces like social lounges, where they can add a lifestyle element. Shoppers could use the space to interact and talk about the products inspiring them, which will in turn also boost dwell times.

He adds that retailers need to create spaces that can be flexed and evolved, using technology to offer something different each time a shopper enters.

With this new, powerful consumer hungrily searching for fashion online and in store, retailers and brands must respond quickly to stay on track with their changing demands, or risk losing out to the competition.

As Forder neatly explains: “Generation Z is the next generation of shoppers. From a retail perspective, if you’re not in a position where you recognise how they are shaping the future of retail, you’re a retailer that will miss out on this high-value customer that will be knocking on the door in the future. We have to change the way we think and embrace technology to provide a seamless experience and be agile in what we do.”

On April 28 the Drapers Digital Forum will host a panel looking into the habits of the Generation Z shopper. Taking place at 155 Bishopsgate in London, don’t miss out on the fashion industry’s global debate on ecommerce, multichannel, social media, web, mobile and all things digital.  See more at

Generation Z shoppers speak:

Laura Neill, 16, Dublin

When trying to find fashion inspiration I look mostly at social media and bloggers that I follow to find a look. I think brands should approach customers on more personal social media such as Snapchat by creating an account that can be added and has fashion blogs and advice for young people.

I always ask for my friends’ advice before making fashion purchases because I want to know their opinion and comments about the item and for them to help me pick out other items.

What annoys me the most about the way brands are currently trying to market to my generation is the way their models and brands come across. They display only one type of person with an unrealistic body goal, which can impact negatively on the shopper.

Eva Barrie, 17, London

I think that the best way for fashion brands to approach young people nowadays is through social media. When large brands and shops have a heavy following on platforms such as Instagram or Twitter, it makes it easy for people to see what they are currently selling.

I think brands can often think young people enjoy a more sophisticated, older look, when actually a more casual and comfortable style is probably more preferred, even for going out. Some brands may think young people are heavily influenced by trends seen on the runway or what is currently in-style when actually it is simply social media or their friends that influence them most.

For me celebrity endorsement doesn’t affect whether I would purchase a product or not.

Miles Wilkins, 16, and Ross Wilkins, 16, from Bolton

Fashion brands should be approaching us as shoppers through promo videos, fashion icons and celebrities of a similar age wearing products. What annoys us the most about the way brands currently market to our generation is the way they assume we all wear the same things, we need more individuality.


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