Gen Z

What do Gen Z shoppers want? Not what you think.

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    Riley Leight
  • Sep 13, 2021

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, young consumers want new and better ways to engage with retailers. That means it’s time for more than just an online store. The next generation of retail will be built on unique experiences, personalized service, and a seamless connection between brick and mortar and digital shopping.

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Gen Z is a digitally-native generation, so you might assume their growing influence on the market is bad news for brick-and-mortar retailers—but the truth is more complex.

Pre-pandemic data showed Gen Z consumers strongly preferred in-store shopping, especially as a way to discover new items and unplug from social media. COVID-19 has since impacted those preferences, but it hasn’t made young people abandon in-person shopping altogether: a report from IBM indicates Gen Z shoppers still want physical shopping experiences, they simply have different desires than older shoppers. 

According to Vogue Business, the must-haves for Gen Z include quick service, highly curated and easy-to-navigate spaces, plus unique touches like customizable items. But most importantly, they’re looking for relational experiences that connect to who they are. 

Here are the digital engagement strategies you can use to meet the unique expectations of young shoppers and turn retail experiences into lasting customer relationships.

The pandemic changed our shopping habits

As the COVID-19 pandemic began, people’s shopping habits—regardless of age—quickly shifted:

Despite this rapid growth, in 2020 Forbes found that executives continued to underestimate consumer interest in online shopping. 59 percent of consumers surveyed said they’d prefer to shop online for the 2020 holiday season, while only 35 percent of senior executives believed consumers would prefer to buy virtually. 

“Consumers have clearly gotten comfortable with the ease and simplicity of online shopping for most things,” said Greg Petro, founder of experience management platform First Insight, “and likely will not go rushing back in-store just because it’s deemed safe again.”

Online shopping is bound to keep growing, but traditional retail remains a massive force, and that’s because each is uniquely equipped to meet certain needs better than the other. Ecommerce is great when it comes to convenience and ease, but it can be impersonal. 

Using digital communication to enhance retail experience for Gen Z

In-person retail gives you the opportunity to build a full journey for a customer that does more than sell them a product—and that kind of deeper engagement is exactly what young consumers are looking for. By using digital tools to enhance your retail space, consumers can get the best of both worlds. 

Getting started: The omnichannel foundation

Engagement that flows seamlessly between the physical and virtual shopping experience requires you to be able to reach customers when, where, and how they want—which is why omnichannel engagement is a crucial foundation.

Whereas a multichannel system employs multiple independent channels, an omnichannel approach  is one where all of your interactions and the data it yields) with customers—including texts, phone calls, emails, and more—can be collected in a single point of truth, rather than in siloed data centers. This lets you learn from and respond to customers with intuitive, tailored communications on any channel without ever missing a beat.

Rather than rely on a single channel, this makes it possible for customers to text their local store to check if an item is in stock, ask questions over the phone, give feedback via email, and anything else your team can imagine—all in a connected space that can be analyzed to provide better experiences with each interaction.

Curating every customer’s journey

For years, digital influencers across platforms like Instagram and Youtube have played a major role in where and how consumers shop. Today, that dynamic is evolving, as young consumers are increasingly drawn to “curators” who rely on taste, expertise, and creativity to spotlight products.

This is an instructive trend for retailers because it shows the importance of creating spaces that aren’t just about buying or selling a product, but about a communal, high-value experience. 

Gen Z consumers want the physical spaces they explore to be as creatively stimulating as their online world, and experiences facilitated by staff who act as expert guides, not salespeople.

Creating experiential retail is easiest when you have the ability to learn about and connect with your customers whether they’re within the walls of a store or not. That’s why services like video clienteling—which let you replicate an in-store experience anytime, anywhere—are becoming an increasingly central part of a curated customer journey that meets modern expectations.

Building relationships with Gen Z through retail personalization

To capture the interest of Gen Z customers—and increasingly, customers in general—businesses need to engage in a way that’s truly personalized. Research shows that 80 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when their experience is tailored to them.

Interaction, offers, rewards, and advertisements are more effective when specifically tailored to who your consumers are and the preferences they’ve established. That’s particularly true for Gen Z, who are the generation least concerned about data privacy because they’re willing to take the risk in exchange for smart, useful personalization from businesses. 

Whereas some older shoppers might be hesitant about the future of hyper-personalization, Gen Z is already embracing it. And what’s best is that kind of customization doesn’t even require employees to take on massive workloads—from customized alerts when an order is ready to chatbots that adjust based on prior conversations, it’s possible to deploy fully-automated personalization to your customers at a massive scale.

Omnichannel in retail

Want more? Keep reading the full retail edition in The Current, by Twilio.

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Riley Leight

Riley is a full-time writer based in Annapolis, Maryland.