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Provocative yet Powerful: Gen Z is Radically Reshaping the Retail and Marketing Playbooks

May 8, 2024

Love them or loathe them, there’s no denying that Gen Z is causing serious ripples in the US retail and marketing scenes. Just take a peek at the product trends these young consumers have sparked—they’re clearing out Sephora’s shelves with viral makeup hits like Rare Beauty and Glossier, bringing “dad sneakers” like New Balance and Balenciaga back from the dead, and snapping up Stanley tumblers like they’re the hottest thing since sliced bread. And let’s not forget, they’re giving Google the cold shoulder and turning to social media as their go-to search engine for product research, with 45% using Instagram for brand discovery.

Gen Z’s Retail Power & Shopping MO

But first, let’s get reacquainted with Gen Z—the generation born between 1997-2012 that’s taking the world by storm. Here’s why their unique values, shopping habits, and buying motivators matter for brands.

With their numbers hitting 67 million and a spending power of over $143 billion, Gen Z is an economic force that’s hard to ignore. This mobile-first, always-on cohort has expectations that are a world apart from previous generations:

  • 98% own a smartphone
  • They’re online for more than 4 hours a day on average
  • 85% use social media to vet products before they buy
  • Only 25% prefer shopping in physical stores

They’re incredibly intentional buyers who do extensive cross-platform research before making a purchase. Gen Z won’t settle for anything less than the best quality and value, skillfully hopping between apps, websites, and stores until they find products that tick all their boxes. A recent survey by IBM found that 60% of Gen Zers prioritize quality over low prices.

And compromise isn’t in their vocabulary—fueled by side hustles and a passion for sustainability, Gen Zers will delay purchases until their practical and ethical standards are met. If a product or brand doesn’t deliver on its promises, they’ll instantly seek alternatives without a second thought.

The 5 Biggest Gen Z Retail Disruptors in 2024

  1. Social Commerce Dominates
    With social media as their main shopping playground, Gen Z is blazing new trails in social commerce. User-generated content, influencer endorsements, and pioneering features like live shopping and AR try-ons are driving purchase decisions. According to a study by ViSionsary, 44% of Gen Z have already made a purchase directly through social media.
  2. Sustainability Demands
    From eco-friendly materials to ethical supply chains, Gen Z won’t accept anything less than a brand’s full commitment to environmental responsibility and climate action. Companies not staying on the pulse of this will get ghosted fast. A Nielsen study revealed that 73% of Gen Zers are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
  3. Subscription Addiction
    With their appetite for convenience, cost-savings, and personal curation, Gen Z is hooked on subscriptions for everything from meal kits (like HelloFresh), clothing rental services (like Rent the Runway), to hair care (like Prose). Subscription models are a no-brainer for gaining long-term loyalty, with the subscription e-commerce market projected to reach $473 billion by 2025.
  4. D2C Obsession
    Cutting out the middleman appeals to Gen Z’s thriftiness and attraction to brand authenticity and transparency. Direct-to-consumer startups like Glossier, Warby Parker, and Allbirds, creating unique omnichannel experiences, will keep winning them over.
  5. Trust in the Crowd
    With skepticism toward traditional advertising, crowdsourced peer opinions are gospel. Invest in systems to generate reviews and user-generated content to earn Gen Z’s trust and dollars. According to a survey by Animoto, 52% of Gen Zers trust influencers more than traditional celebrities when it comes to product recommendations.

The Consumer Loop Reboot

In the past, brands dictated the journey with marketing funnels. Today, Gen Z is the heart of an infinite “consumer loop”—their real needs, wants, and conversations spark the inspiration, drive the exploration and evaluation, build community trust, and determine true brand loyalty.

To win with Gen Z in 2024 and beyond, brands must rebuild their entire marketing approach around being invited into this digitally powered, radically transparent new consumer universe. It’s time to hand the controls over to Gen Z.

One Thing is Crystal Clear

Whether you view Gen Z as trailblazers or troublemakers, one thing is crystal clear—this digitally fueled generation is radically rewriting the rules of marketing and retail success. Their distinct values, shopping behaviors, and buying motivations have disrupted the traditional sales funnel into an infinite “consumer loop.”

In this new paradigm, Gen Z is the tastemaker dictating the terms of engagement. They’re the inspiration that kicks off the cycle, with brands having to earn their way into the conversation through transparency, sustainability commitments, and value alignment. Gen Z drives the exploration process through social channels and peer approval. They decide when to let a brand into their community based on authenticity and quality delivery. Ultimately, Gen Z defines true brand loyalty—it’s not just transactional purchases but a lasting relationship built on mutual trust and dynamic storytelling.

This infinite loop sparked by Gen Z’s social media dominance has exploded the antiquated marketing funnel into a vast playground of possibilities. But it’s also an unpredictable landscape where missteps could mean getting ghosted in a flash by these powerful arbiters of cool. The only way for brands to win is to dive headfirst into Gen Z’s consumer universe and hand them control of their narrative.

It’s both a daunting and thrilling paradigm shift that unveils incredible new opportunities. Those willing to relinquish the old command-and-control marketing mindset can now co-create in real-time with Gen Z through user-generated content, influencer collaborations, live shopping experiences, and more. Brands brave enough to embrace radical transparency and sustainability authenticity have the chance to build deep, lasting connections with this group. By being first-movers into Gen Z’s values-driven social world, marketing pioneers can stake their claim as the innovators defining the future of commerce.

Connect with Gen Z Through Tribu

If you’re a brand looking to navigate this new landscape and connect with the Gen Z audience, we at Tribu are here to help. With our expertise in design and digital marketing, we can help you create a strategy that resonates with this dynamic generation. Whether it’s through creative content, web design, or digital marketing, we’re ready to help you make your mark. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your brand thrive in the Gen Z era.


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