Journalist Annie Brown discusses how to reach Gen Z in the retail landscape. 

They’re digital natives who will soon be 40% of the world’s consumers, so it’s little wonder that Generation Z has become a focus for retail brands and marketers.

Yet while they share Millennials’ interest in climate change and sustainability, they’re very different when it comes to finances and privacy, according to Afterpay’s Global Gen Z Report by The Future Laboratory.

Where previous generations have been relatively relaxed about handing over their personal information (hands up if you’re a Gen X who hasn’t filled in an online Facebook quiz?), Generation Z is much more circumspect.

"They’re digital natives, so they’re used to sharing information to a degree, but more calculated in doing so," says Anastasia Lloyd-Wallis from retail consumer group The Retail Doctor.

"They’ll only share with brands they trust and when they can see a personal benefit." 

Financially savvy spenders

Born between 1995 and 2012, Generation Z have watched their parents experience the effects of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), and are now themselves bearing the brunt of the pandemic economic slowdown.

This means brands will have to work a whole lot harder to convert interest into sales.

Growing up in the sluggish post-GFC economy, Gen Z were already fiscally conservative with an aversion to debt, which is why they’re drawn to buy-now-pay-later fintechs such as Afterpay. In fact, 94% of Gen Z’s Afterpay customers link a debit card to their Afterpay account, preferring to use their own money to pay for the things they need and want.

"They have grown up in a cashless society, and are financially adept," said Claire Madden, author of Hello Gen Z.

"They’ll only share with brands they trust and when they can see a personal benefit," Lloyd-Wallis added. 

They’re savvy shoppers, too.

"[They] look around more, they’re more aware," Lloyd-Wallis said.

"They’re spending eight or nine hours a day on their phone … and are aware of what’s out there across all platforms. They know all the sales and options." 

Private with personal details

As digital natives, they’re also much more careful than Millennials and Gen X about their digital footprint.

Mainly, said Cherie Clonan, founder of digital agency The Social Picnic, they don’t have one.

"They’re very aware that every photograph could end up on the internet - after all, it’s what they’ve grown up with," she said, adding that Gen Z’s parents were the first to use Facebook (and conducted entire conversations on an open wall for everyone to see).

"I advise brands that they should bear in mind it takes a lot for Gen Z to even leave a comment on a post."

So, what are the best ways to communicate with (and sell to) this cautious, digitally-savvy consumer?

Meet your audience where they are

"Gen Z consumers rely as much as ever on social proof, but they’re chatting about brands in their private chats rather than open threads," Clonan said.

"They use social media like an introvert. So, we might encourage a brand to let consumers “slide into their DMs” [directing messaging on social media channels], and we set up chatbots as a regular part of our social strategies.

"In order to judge the success of campaigns, brands need to stop using [public-facing] vanity metrics [like ‘likes’] and look at how many shares and DMs a post has attracted." 

Get personal

Thanks to their youth and the pandemic slowdown, Gen Z is even more sensitive than other generations to price check ("even while they’re in a physical store, they’ll price check," said Madden).

Personalisation - and the ability to collaborate with a brand to create a unique product - is one way to offer additional value to this consumer.

Madden points to Nike’s, and more recently Converse’s, activations that enable consumers to create their own versions of classic shoes as successful examples of Gen Z marketing strategies.

Share your values and be transparent

Whereas Millennials value local, organic production, Gen Z prioritises ethics and a global sense of interconnectedness.

After all, this is the generation that has become used to having products from all over the world delivered to their doorstep.

"Gen Z see themselves as global citizens, even though they're unable to travel right now," Madden commented.

"They like it when a brand’s values align with their own." 

Talking openly about the provenance of products and a brand’s aspirations plays well with the Gen Z consumer, and helps deliver additional value.

"Brands should help Gen Z to feel like they’re informed," Madden added.

"They should emphasise attributes such as the quality and potential longevity of their products as consumers return to stores." 

Annie Brown is a journalist who writes regularly for The Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald

All references to any registered trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Afterpay does not endorse or recommend any one particular supplier and the information provided is for educational purposes only.

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