Shopping Gen Y & Z: Can You Build Brands with Retail Influence?

There has been an extraordinary amount of media hype about Generations Y (born 1980-1995) and Z (born 1995-2010). They have variously been branded as narcissistic, entitled, impatient and fickle. But what is undeniable is their significance to the global economy. Those born since 1980 already make up over half of the global population, and Gen Z in the US alone have $44bn of annual disposable income and influence $600bn of family purchases.

For retail brands – it is really a case of ignore them at your peril.

The process of ‘shopping’ has traditionally been a means to an end. However amongst Gen Y & Z, shopping has become a cultural entity in its own right.  Young shoppers want brands to reflect and contribute to their shared values throughout the purchasing process – and more importantly, have an ever growing desire to influence and gain approval of their decisions back from their peer group. 

For previous generations, reputable products and services were enough to differentiate (think John Lewis).  Today, Gen Y&Z shoppers want brands to stimulate influential content that they can participate in and exchange with their peers throughout their shopping experience. Brands that get this and leverage it are brands with real retail influence. 

Creative innovation network iris has conducted research across 3 markets (UK, US and Brazil), among 17-19 years-olds (Gen Z) and 28-30 year-olds (Gen Y).  Using quant research, qualitative self-ethnography and in-the-purchase-moment diary along with social intelligence listening across social media, iris specifically set out to understand how Gens Y&Z shop… to discover the following:

  • What are the key differences and similarities between their shopping behaviours?
  • What are their desires, needs and shopping habits?
  • What influences their shopping behaviour and drives conversion?
  • What are the best channels to reach them to influence their purchases?
  • And how should brands engage them throughout the shopping process?

iris explored respondents’ shopping attitudes and behaviour across 4 categories: consumer tech, fashion, food and leisure and in doing so, uncovered the myths and misconceptions attributed to Gens Y&Z and the big implications for brands and retailers today.

Peter Wilson, Planning Director at iris said on the findings: “In many ways they’re not unlike young people from previous generations. Their motivations and insecurities are similar: they’re figuring out who they are and they need support and approval from others.

“What’s changed is their behaviour is enormously influenced by their use of digital technology and the social media that is ingrained in their lives. Make no mistake - they are the mouthpiece for the Internet and increasingly have the power to make or break your brand.”

Whilst there are distinct differences between the audiences that the full report discloses in detail, the study also reveals some universal truths across the two generations – which remain true across the global markets. The gap between the way they shop and the culture in which they live their lives is disappearing – and their purchase journey is far from a linear path: Gen Y + Z shoppers follow a fluid cycle, seeking approval and asserting influence at every stage.

There is a continual feedback loop amongst the peer group, before, during and after purchase as they constantly seek validation of their choices and purchases. They favour brands that, in addition to providing exemplary products and services, can help them exert and receive influence.

The 6 key implications to become a ‘brand with retail influence’:

  1. Celebrate communities of shoppers who share the same values
  2. Give them a collective experience with a personal touch
  3. Present your product within their culture
  4. Help them experience and buy your product in their channels
  5. Make the act of purchase super simple and super social
  6. Help them enjoy owning their new product:  before, during and after they buy