By Brad Ross, Global Trend Forecasting

I know, you’re probably asking yourself, “Another consumer group? I just now tapped into understanding the Millennials!” Despite the fact that the Millennials are an undeniable, present retail force, I would be remiss to ignore the consumer tidal wave in the near future:  Gen Z (those born after 1995).  Here are three key characteristics of Gen Z that will greatly alter the future of retail.


1. They are on five screens.

Being the first group to effortlessly multi-task varied screens, the Gen Z-ers are now surpassing the once formidable Millennials, and at jaw-dropping speed. Simultaneously managing five screens (TV, smart phone, laptop gaming device and tablet), is the mere daily operating procedure for this tech savvy group. As mentioned in my Mobile Life Trend, television was once the media of choice for teens. However, the tide has shifted and Gen Z uses smart phones as the preferred screen. They are endlessly scrolling, always sharing and always shopping. It is here that “snack-size” ads lead to quick, easy sales. However, their digital habits suggest that they are looking for brand-led experiences that provide aspirational browsing as opposed to a single push for transaction.

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2. They are self-sufficient.

While Millennials expect success through participation, Generation Z believes it is in charge of its own success. Unlike their fellow digital natives in Gen Y, the Z Generation is less pampered and more worried about money, having grown up with the 2008 financial crisis. They embrace the sharing economy and like to buy less but better quality. Over-connected and equipped with a stunning amount of information, they possess the power to hop between retailers (at physical and online stores), compare prices and share pictures as they go. Many favor brick-and-mortar shops and often turn to trusted curators for the most relevant experience. They’ve grown up in a world where options are limitless, but their time is not. As such, they have adapted to quickly sorting through enormous amounts of information and rely heavily on trending pages to collect the most popular, relevant content. The future points to retailers with smaller formats and tightly edited merchandise selections to help Gen Z shrink their options down to a more manageable size.

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3. They are realists.

Unlike Millennials, who are a hyper-optimistic group, Gen Z has a more realistic approach, with post 9/11 terrorism being the norm. Studies reveal that this generation has a genuine desire to change the world through ethical but pragmatic practices, with transparency at the forefront.  It is here that retailers must refrain from exaggerated commitments, but instead, ensure their promises are tangible. Despite being realists, Gen Z is known for having a short attention span. But having grown up in a time where distractions abound, this generation has developed a 'highly-evolved, eight-second filter.” They communicate with symbols and colors, therefore words and complex signage are virtually invisible.

So how does this overlay into Gen Z food choices and preferences? Quiet simply, the same as the 24/7 world, Generation Z wants delicious food, exciting flavors, any time, anywhere. They have high expectations … they’ve grown up with cooking shows on TV, so they’ve been encouraged to experiment. They eat out an estimated four times a week according to Table Tracker, but because of their age and relatively low income, they’re also frugal, with less money to spend at each meal. Sharing plates and combo meals are a popular way to give them low-cost variety and the fast, efficient service they crave.

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They’re young, but they’re very much in touch with the global world around them. This specifically provides clarity around what seems to be a contradiction in the natural and organic foods that resonate with Gen Z. It’s worth your time to pursue them with appealing flavors they crave because they are the most-diverse of all the generations with backgrounds that have exposed them to a variety of cuisines and cultures.

Attempts to quantify Gen Z, are becoming increasingly frequent, and for a good reason. By 2020, Gen Z will take the lead as the largest consumer group worldwide. The characteristics of this group will influence the next generation of shoppers and the future of retail. Packing an average of $44 billion dollars a year in purchasing power, it’s understandable that we must monitor the needs and habits of this mighty consumer group.


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