Kenzo for H&M collaboration

Grasping the behavior of Generation Z and Millennials is an ongoing quest in the fashion apparel and retail market as each cohort share commonalities as well as distinct differences.

But there are core characteristics that are essential to know for retailers and brands launching products. Sue Welch is chief executive officer of product life cycle management company Bamboo Rose, which connects more than 150,000 retail community members to discern new trends and products. The software platform is positioned as a collaborative tool to be used early in the product life cycle process, which also requires a keen understanding of consumer behavior.

Here, Welch discusses some of the key differences between Gen Z-ers and other demographics, as well as some notable market trends.

WWD: What characteristics especially distinguish Generation Z shoppers from former age groups?

Sue Welch: Generation Z is similar to the Millennial generation, except this group takes its traits to the extreme. This incoming group of consumers currently between the ages of 13 and 21 has grown up highly connected and digitally savvy, with the power and choice to demand what they want when they want it.

Generation Z has a very low tolerance for things that don’t work and a short attention span that makes it difficult for retailers to connect with them. Despite the hurdles, attracting their attention isn’t rocket science: Retailers need to offer them a high-quality product that they actually want to buy and an easy way to do so. To do this, retailers should tap their communities — suppliers, designers, mills and agents — the same way Generation Z taps into its own social network, to leverage industry knowledge and create a product that Generation Z can’t refuse.

WWD: This generation is more tech-savvy than other demographics. They’re also wiser to inauthentic marketing schemes. What are key components of successful strategies?

S.W.: Generation Z shoppers are very engaged with brands and products on social media. They shop around, know what they want and are highly sophisticated decision-makers who don’t waste time on things they don’t find compelling. Most of Generation Z uses mobile more than they do the desktop to shop online, so prioritizing mobile is of utmost importance.

And if you aren’t offering something they really want to buy, you’re never going to reach them, even if it is mobile-friendly. Generation Z’s main concern is that they receive exactly what they want, when they want it — usually immediately. Retailers need to seize the opportunity to leverage the rest of its community, especially the often forgotten suppliers, as a resource when producing goods for this generation. If retailers know what Generation Z wants, suppliers can help them select what materials to use and get the product to market faster.

WWD: Generation Z are noted for having a short attention span. How can brands keep these shoppers engaged?

S.W.: The best way to market to Generation Z is to start with a quality product. No matter how great an ad is, if Generation Z shoppers aren’t interested in the product, they won’t pay any attention. This means that retailers must be as informed as their consumers, leveraging all industry channels and resources to bring forth a product that Generation Z really wants. Ads must speak to the value of the product to keep these shoppers engaged.

WWD: What are the pros and cons of marketing in social platforms when approaching Generation Z?

S.W.: Generation Z is even more connected than the Millennial generation. They grew up with cell phones, iPads, apps and social media. Generation Z shoppers quickly research, review and purchase products from their smartphones in an instant. Brands need to be quick on their feet with every aspect of the product development process — making sure the product is what the consumer wants, is delivered quickly and draws no customer complaints.

To succeed in marketing to Generation Z, retailers need to take a hint from the generation and approach purchasing in their job the same way they do in their personal life. Retailers must connect with the larger retail community and tap into the wealth of knowledge from social tribes that is largely underutilized. Only when retailers use technology and digital media to improve the backend experience — similar to the way consumers use technology to shop — can they fully address Generation Z’s needs.

WWD: Given their purchasing power, how can brands create loyalty among these shoppers (considering that they’re the most self-informed out of all the demographics thus far)?

S.W.: Establishing and maintaining customer loyalty with Generation Z comes down to tapping the whole retail community to create a high-quality, low-cost, on-trend end product that’s exactly what they want.

Generation Z is self-informed. This group gets its information from a variety of channels, which it has immediate access to whenever it needs it. Retailers can do the same on the backend. By connecting with their partners and leveraging their unique expertise, retail teams become equally as informed about what Generation Z wants and expects, and can cater to this group’s desires more effectively.

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