Few companies have a handle on young adult behavior and culture like Chegg Inc. As a student-oriented learning platform, the company is in the business of understanding what motivates and drives these young consumers today. At the forum, the company put those insights on stage, giving attendees a front-row view of today’s female college student.
Chegg has regularly collaborated with WWD on research shedding light on this demographic’s attitudes around beauty and fashion. Its primary methodology covers surveys and discussions of 15 up to 18,000 students, said Mitch Spolan, Chegg’s executive vice president of marketing services.
Onstage, Spolan discussed his methodology and a few key data points before bringing out a much smaller panel of four students to offer a taste of that research.
Chegg usually asks a range of questions, including, “Do you dress differently in college, compared to high school?” “Where do you get your inspiration for apparel and accessories?” and others.
“The personal styles do evolve dramatically,” said Spolan. “If you think about it from a high school perspective, yes, there’s a huge change: Two in three students have changed their style since high school…This is all levels of college, so from freshmen through seniors.”
As for the inspiration, friends were unsurprisingly the top-ranking influence. But retailers were the second, which surprised Spolan. “I was not necessarily expecting that, but 47 percent say that retail companies influence their purchase decision — which is great,” he said. “And you’ll also see Instagram, Pinterest, television influencers, YouTube.”
Another highlight from the research: Two out of three students use their phones while they’re in the store, at 67 percent. Two-thirds also said they prefer to do as much of their shopping as possible online.
“Another almost two-thirds don’t like to purchase online items unless they’ve tried them,” he said. The study discovered another intriguing detail: “Nine in 10 browse online and purchase in-store. But almost the exact same amount purchased online after seeing a product in-store,” Spolan added. “You can see 92 percent browse products online and then purchase in store; 85 percent make purchases online after seeing it in-store.”
To understand the shopping patterns of Generation Z, Spolan introduced four college students — three from the University of California, Los Angeles and one from the University of Southern California.
When it comes to e-commerce, some of the panelists enjoy the convenience and selection of online shopping, while others still enjoy bricks-and-mortar stores. Not only are they able to physically handle the merchandise and try it on, but they consider in-store shopping to be an experience.
As for the top choice of social media, Instagram and YouTube soundly beat out Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook.
Audience members leaned forward when the topic of influencers came up. Judging by this small panel, their actual influence seems to wane as women get older. “I try to rear away from them, maybe,” said UCLA junior Yasmeen Amid, “[to] be a little different.”
Fellow UCLA junior Katrina Froelich agreed and added that concern over “ratios” — the comparison between the follower and following counts a user maintains — prompts her to be selective. “At the risk of sounding exactly like what everyone thinks a Millennial is, I care about my ratio and obviously influencers don’t follow you back,” said Froelich. “And that’s OK. But if I’m going to follow an influencer I want it to be someone that I really identify with, that offers me content that matters to me…It’s not worth ruining my ratio for something that I’m not really getting in return.”
The guests stressed the importance of authenticity. They don’t often click links or other referral mechanisms because they don’t know if the product endorsement is genuine or just paid promotion.
Generation Z, as a customer segment that has never known a world without smartphones, appears to balance its online savvy with an appreciation for real-world experiences. It cares about individuality and rewards authenticity with their earned attention. In that sense, it’s a fascinating blend of the generations that have come before it, so it should be no surprise that it’s helping to drive this new era of digital-physical omnichannel retail.