Wide-Ranging Gen Z Study Reveals Purchasing Decisions Strongly Influenced by Celebrities, Desire for Uniqueness

Study of Multigenerational Respondents Across Nine Countries Has Important Implications for Retailers and Brands

A worldwide study focused on buying habits of Generation Z – defined as those born beginning in 1998 – reveals the group has much higher expectations than previous generations when it comes to style and uniqueness, and is heavily influenced by celebrities and social media.

“A Generation Without Borders,” a highly detailed analysis by global consulting firm OC&C Strategy Consultants, involved 15,500 respondents in nine countries. It paints a compelling picture of the buying habits and factors influencing the purchasing decisions of a generation that is already 30% of the worldwide population and responsible for 7% of spending — a figure that will grow quickly over the next decade.

Key takeaways from the study include:

  • Gen Zers are more likely than previous generations to demand their clothing be “stylish” and “unique.” Gen Zers were 7.2% more likely than previous generations to say that having a unique style is “very important” to them.
  • Gen Zers are more likely to be influenced in purchasing decisions by celebrities and friends than earlier generations, which may underscore the need of brands to court major influencers with large followings on Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • While Gen Zers are interested in reducing waste and they cite the importance of reducing single-use plastic packaging, Gen Z in the US are actually more concerned than previous generations with social justice (equal rights, community welfare and diversity).

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The responses show homogenous attitudes on spending as well as outlook on the future.

Compared with older generations, Gen Z respondents showed the greatest similarity in behavior and attitudes across all nine countries surveyed.

Implications for Marketers

Commenting on the survey, Coye Nokes, partner at OC&C, said: “It’s vital for brands to examine the behaviors and expectations of the next generation of global consumers,” said Nokes. “OC&C’s research shows that the way they interact with brands, celebrities and each other is fundamentally different from the millennial and older generations. Businesses that ignore these changes do so at
great risk.”

“Businesses should take note of their increased consciousness and ethical standards, both when supplying products and services, and also to attract Gen Zers to their workforce. Reviewing the supply chain, CSR initiatives and company values should be at the forefront of business marketing.”

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In order to effectively respond to the challenges of serving Gen Z, OC&C presents several action points based on implications of the study — and the companies that are getting it right. They include:

  • Think global: Retailers must recognize that Gen Z consumers are increasingly international, so retailers must set themselves up for rapid reactive production and be able to adjust tone of voice as they seek to engage different ‘tribes.’
  • Optimize options: Technology should allow the consumer maximum product personalization and customization, to facilitate engagement with major brands while still expressing individuality. For example, NikeID customization tool has been a huge success. Through limited editions and collaboration, mainstream brands can appeal to the Gen Z desire for unique products with less radical changes. Clothing brands such as H&M have made collaborations a cornerstone of their product strategies.
  • Experience is key: Pop-up stores, like those recently created by Chanel at cafes and gaming centers in Asian cities, showcase products in a fresh setting and link the brand to new, fun partners and venues.
  • Leverage the network effect: Online platforms – particularly brand specific ones – should engage and highlight a product’s ‘superfans,’ while allowing conversations and shared photos. Sephora has a vibrant online community with conversations about personal care and other issues. Peer-to-peer, social selling models are more powerful for this digital generation and are an increasingly important component of a brand’s business model.
  • Appeal to sustainability and social justice: As socially conscious consumers, Gen Z have high expectations of brands to respect and even advocate the causes they support. It is key for brands to be authentic with their values and make them part of the company DNA, not just marketing language.

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A Generation Without Borders

Compared with older generations, there are greatest similarities in behaviors and attitudes in the Gen Z respondents of all nine countries surveyed. This suggests a homogenizing effect that is almost certainly being driven by technology – the internet and social channels make it ever easier for this online generation to share ideas and access the same information and media. Brands providing access to the same products and services across markets and the power of truly global celebrities and influencers appear to be playing their part in this trend too.

As a result of this trend, retailers and brands should look to target these cross-border tribes and segment their customer base by similar attitudes rather than – or as well as – traditional demographics.

Under The Influence Versus The Need To Stand Out

Influence is pivotal in the life of Gen Z. They report higher levels of influence on their life choices than older generations, and are more likely to be influenced by friends and celebrities too.

This online sphere of influence is disrupting traditional purchasing journeys – Gen Zers are more likely to purchase through mobile apps, social media, and bloggers than Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. This younger generation diverges from traditional sources of brand discovery, too. Just 8% of Gen Z selected seeing new brands when out shopping as the inspiration for a purchase, compared to 17% of Gen X and 24% of Baby Boomers.

Despite the appearance that Gen Z finds inspiration and identity through friends and celebrities, a core group of Gen Zers (25%) believe it is important to have a unique view on style, hobbies and creativity. “Retailers should look to provide more personalization and customization services to satisfy this generation’s appetite for exclusivity,” Nokes added. “Limited edition mainstream ranges are another tactic that businesses can employ to reach this generation.”

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