Tricia Carey think tank


Millennials — an influential generation because of their size and their budget-minded, (some would even say “finicky”) buying habits — have been top of mind for retailers and brands in recent years. But Generation Z is coming into focus these days as the oldest of that group enter their twenties and begin their purchasing years in earnest.

Gen Z is different than Millennials, Baby Boomers and Gen X in important ways. For one thing, while the Millennial and Baby Boomer generations are thought of as huge cohorts, there are many more people who are members of Gen Z (born more or less between 1995 and 2014): Their number is set to reach 2.6 billion by 2020, according to a study for the National Retail Federation from IBM. Another key difference is that these consumers are the first to know the world as connected by the Internet and by smartphones, perceiving it as always on, and interconnected at all times.

“Generation Z expects technology to be intuitive, relevant and engaging — their last great experience is their new expectation,” said Steve Laughlin, general manager of global consumer industries at IBM. “This presents a significant challenge for retailers and brands to create a personalized, interactive experience with the latest digital advances or risk falling behind. This kind of innovation is not linear or a one-time project — it is a new way of thinking, operating and behaving.”

But, though Gen Z feels connected to friends, family and the world (including brands) at all times, that doesn’t mean that they perceive their universe as existing only on their phones. Mobile is leveraged by these young people for information gathering, making them extremely savvy customers, according to the IBM research as well as another study from Euclid Analytics.

Both reports found that Gen Z prefers shopping in stores, almost as much as Millennials do. But Euclid found the highest use of smartphones while shopping among Gen Z respondents, who easily blend their mobile and in-store experiences. But they’re indeed in the store: 67 percent shop in a physical store “most of the time,” and another 31 percent shop in-store “sometimes,” so in all, 98 percent of Gen Z shops in stores, according to IBM.

They have their reasons for approaching their shopping that way. Most (67 percent) want to see merchandise firsthand, about half (51 percent) enjoy browsing and 45 percent like getting their hands on their purchases immediately, without waiting for delivery, according to Euclid. And this is how important people are to Gen Z shoppers — they’re more likely to ask the store associate for advice than the other demographics (28 percent of Gen Z respondents versus 21 percent of all respondents of all ages), according to that study.

“Just as Millennials overtook Gen X, there’s another big buying group retailers need to plan for, and it’s even larger: Generation Z,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said. “They appreciate the hands-on experience of shopping in a store. With technology constantly evolving but some shopping habits remaining the same, retailers need to be agile enough to serve both needs. Retailers are constantly focused on experimenting with new innovations both online and in-store to remain relevant to evolving consumer demand.”

Those reports are eye-opening, but those are really just the numbers. [Lenzing’s Carved in Blue marketing team] wanted to meet these savvy, well-connected consumers. To see up close how they shop, and to discover their attitudes about denim apparel, Carved in Blue gave three Gen Z shoppers $100 each to buy denim at their local suburban New York City area mall. The retailers at those centers included Nordstrom, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Anthropologie, Abercrombie & Fitch, Madewell, Free People, Aritzia and J. Crew.

Meet Grey:

Grey is 17 years old and wears one of his two pairs of jeans at least once a week, sometimes twice. He likes his jeans to be simple, with a straight cut and a slightly loose fit in a deep blue or otherwise dark wash. “I’m not really into light-washed jeans. I also look for jeans with no holes or rips,” he told Carved in Blue. “The fit is also very important to me.”

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What did you buy with your Carved in Blue allowance?

A Ralph Lauren denim shirt, long sleeves with buttons, 100 percent cotton for $79.

What store impressed you most for spring? Which had the best service?

Although I didn’t buy anything there, Free People surprised me for spring. I also feel that Free People had the best service. I found that their store felt comfortable and the two sales people behind the counter were inviting and asked if we needed help with anything almost immediately.

How much do you buy online vs in-store?

I would say it’s 40/60: 40 percent buying online and 60 percent buying in store. I buy online when it comes to stores like Bonobos, Everlane and Life After Denim, which are all either exclusively online-based or have storefronts in places that I can’t just freely run out to. I also have to buy online when it comes to pants quite frequently, because my legs are a bit longer than sizes normally sold in stores. But, I fit into shirts and shorts sold from places like J. Crew, Gap and Club Monaco, so I shop in stores just a bit more than online.

Do you like shopping at department stores or specialty stores?

I like to and do most of my shopping in specialty stores.

Is there a new style that you like this spring?

I like the presence of bomber jackets. They’re really coming back and I even got one for myself.

What is your take on skinny jeans this season?

When it comes to skinny jeans, I’m not a huge fan of them for me, but if you like them and you can rock them, then I totally support it. I feel like skinny jeans will always be timeless in fashion, and seeing them this season isn’t surprising nor upsetting.

Meet Amanda:

Amanda is 17. She owns 19 pairs of jeans and wears them four days a week, on average. She looks for the right fit, color and style.

What did you buy with your Carved in Blue allowance?

A pair of boyfriend jeans with holes from Abercrombie & Fitch 98 percent cotton/2 percent spandex for $60, and a shirt from Tommy Hilfiger from Macy’s, 100 percent Tencel for $30 on sale.

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What store impressed you most for spring?

Aritzia because it had a lot of the trending styles that I could see myself wearing.

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Which stores had the best service?

Aritzia because the people would start up a conversation and help me with a fitting room when I came in.

How much do you buy online versus in store?

I buy more in store because I like to be able to try the clothes on myself and see how they look before buying them.

Do you like shopping at department stores or specialty stores?

Specialty stores because they are much more organized and contain a smaller amount of clothes than department stores.

Is there a new style that you like this spring?

I really like either the fishnet tights under the denim, the silk fabric with a bomber jacket, or the off-the-shoulder tops.

What is your take on skinny jeans this season?

I think that skinny jeans will always be in, but I think people are starting to look at different styles of jeans. There has been a big comeback on boyfriend and flare jeans.

What styles do you not like?

I am personally not a fan of the flare jean style because I tend to have trouble picking out shoes that will go with them.

Meet Corinne:

Corinne is 16 years old and finds jeans “super easy to wear,” which she does about four days a week. She owns 10 pair, and says she looks for jeans that fit her curvy figure in a flattering way, that are soft and that don’t require a belt to fit well or be comfortable.

What did you buy with your Carved in Blue allowance?

I purchased a denim skirt from Free People, 97 percent cotton/3 percent spandex for $58.

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What store impressed you most for spring?

Free People and Aritzia impressed me equally.

Do you like shopping at department stores or specialty stores?

I like to shop at specialty stores because once I find a store that accommodates to my taste, I know I can just go there. Department stores can be overwhelming unless you know what you are looking for.

How much do you buy online versus in store?

I make my purchases mostly all in store. However I utilize online stores to gain inspiration and get ideas of what I may want to purchase my next shopping trip.

Is there a new style that you like this spring?

Yes! Midi dresses and jumpsuits seem to be very prominent in many stores’ look-books and I would love to get one for the season.

What is your take on skinny jeans this season?

I think that skinny jeans are slowly going out and trouser jeans and straight jeans will be more outstanding this season. Personally, true skinny jeans don’t fit me best so I am fine with this change.

What styles do you not like?

By just looking at them, the trouser style jeans took me aback because of their size and width. I am not sure how I feel about them. However, I would be willing to try them on because looks can be deceiving.

Tricia Carey is director of business development – denim at Lenzing Fibers. For more market reports from Lenzing, see Carved in Blue.

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