Gen Z is a generation of competitive “aspirationalists.” Defined as those born between the mid-Nineties and late Aughts, this group will soon outgrow all previous generations, not to mention, the most ethnically and culturally diverse generation to date. Beyond these impressive statistics, Gen Z’s upbringing contextualizes a generational narrative remarkably unique from preceding groups. Retailers cannot regard this generation as an extension of Millennials — there are vast differences in their generational truths.
The savvy, irrational and quirky nature of Gen Zers is well documented. Gen Zers are digital nomads trained to constantly adapt, learning new systems and platforms daily. This nimble adaptability comes at the expense of their attention spans. The “always on” generation lacks prolonged focus and edits their views with every new piece of information received. In contrast to this seeming flippancy is a seriousness and ambition not seen in the preceding Millennial generation.
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Raised in a recession, they understand the value of money and need for a secure income. They are financially savvy planners, who value entrepreneurialism and independence. This ambition is not limited to fiscal stability but is also complemented by a desire to drive progress socially and politically. They have already begun to prove themselves to be a formidable generation, taking on social and political issues with poise and determination. Their view of the world and how they interact is driven by personal satisfaction and betterment. They demand that the world bend to their views, not conforming to the social and professional status quo.
What is less discussed is Gen Z’s need for purpose, stability and flexibility in all aspects of life. Looking deeper, Gen Zers are marked by three core personas: Conscious Consumers, Security Seekers and Inclusive Individualists. In line with their generational perspective, these personas exist along a spectrum. The mingling of two seemingly antithetical traits is a key mark of a Gen Zer. These individuals do not strictly conform to the outlined personas below, but rather exist within the spectrum of their bounds.
Gen Z…the Conscious Consumers
Gen Z is a generation of invested, social and political warriors. They actively self-reflect on the sustainability and ethicality of their habits. Their weapon of choice against socially corrupt corporations tends to be purchase power. More than half of Gen Zers consider the ethical implications of a brand to have a significant impact on purchase intent. It is not enough for a brand to actually be ethically sound. Gen Z lives in a world of messaging overload. They need to see, hear and feel the practices in the brand. Think about the extremely popular clothing line Reformation — everything about their brand narrative, messaging, and impact orients around sustainability.
From the materials and production of their clothes to the communities and workers who create their products, Reformation provides Gen Z the transparency to verify claims of ethical practice. Brands need to understand this crucial driving force of Gen Z shoppers and pivot their practices to capture the Conscious Consumer’s wallet share.
Gen Z…the Security Seekers
This generation’s approach to money and wealth is heavily contextualized by the financial situation in which they were raised. Gen Z grew up in a recession. During their childhood, they watched their parents struggle with finances and had to make difficult budgeting decisions. As such, the generation has taken a reaction stance on money. They do not want to experience similar stress and anxiety that their parents endured. Instead of the Millennial ethos of immediate gratification, Gen Z favors savings as a means of ensuring long-term lifestyle stability. They believe strongly in the correlation between what they do now and how their future will unfold. A key manifestation of this practice is the rise in students pursuing alternative higher education options. Instead of riddling themselves with student debt, Gen Zers are taking a more strategic approach in finding success through alternative degree programs.
Retailers need to understand that Gen Z is less flippant with their spending than previous generations. More risk-averse, these younger buyers prefer spending money on the necessities, and seek to understand the value of any given purchase.
Gen Z…the Inclusive Individualists
While many of their characteristics seem hardline and serious, Gen Z is ultimately a congenial paradox. Their love of individualism and entrepreneurialism is balanced by their intrinsic allegiance to collective community. Their unparalleled cultural and ethnic diversity encourages values of individualism and independence, but also fosters a sense of inclusivity and compassion that drives their aforementioned ethical investments. Unlike Millennials, who are constantly attached to their phones, Gen Zers have developed a reactionary apathy to constant social engagement. The “always-on” generation romanticizes time away from technology. Digital engagement is seen as a necessity in their life, not a privilege or choice. As such, they seek privacy and respite from constant contact. Their individualism does not just exist in relation to their personal beliefs, but also their social habits. Enter “me-time.”
The great irony of the most socially connected generation in history is that they just want to be alone sometimes. The rapidly growing wellness movement, putting your mental and physical health first, feeds off of this desire to ground oneself through connection with self. Raised to be socially equitable global citizens, Gen Z realizes that cultivating a community of individuals requires prioritizing the individual. The tension of community and self creates a spectrum for personal and social growth. Retailers must understand this fundamental truth in order to effectively interact with this generation.
Gen Z is unique in that their habits and beliefs do not fit into the bounds of signifiers or characteristics. Instead, they embody personas that act at opposing ends of a spectrum, onto which individuals in the generation plot against. The sheer size of this generation demands that retailers recognize and react to these intricacies in order to appeal to this group of incredibly diverse, ambitious individuals. Gen Z promises to lead this world, socially, politically and economically, toward a new horizon.
Drew Carlin is a brand analyst at Vivaldi_.