Kids these days — who knows what they’re thinking? Well, in fact, maybe your younger customers are not the problem. The retail industry likes to think it understands its consumer base better than anyone, but perhaps the real issue facing it is not an unbridgeable generational gap, but a lack of imagination.
After all, for time immemorial, the rift between age groups has presented issues for businesses attempting to connect with younger consumers (remember ‘New Coke?’ Ouch!). For a recent example, cast your mind back to the abysmal Pepsi ad campaign featuring Kendall Jenner in 2017.
It’s a shame really, because there are several key aspects of modern business that Gen Z is keenly aware of — for instance, corporate social responsibility — which draw them to specific brands, such as Patagonia. So whether you’re selling trainers, jewellery or water bottles, there are a few trusted techniques that can win round this more elusive demographic.
1. Go clean and green
To start with, your products and supply chain need to be clean and eco-friendly. To better understand Gen Z’s desire to be environmentally-conscious consumers, Forbes draws on a recent report that found that “the vast majority of Generation Z shoppers prefer to buy sustainable brands, and they are most willing to spend 10 percent more on sustainable products”.
Bo Finneman at McKinsey digs a little deeper: “they’re looking beyond tangible products and actually trying to understand what it is that makes the company tick. What’s its mission? What’s its purpose? And what is it actually trying to build for us as a society?”. It’s therefore not just about creating products that either help (or at least don’t harm) the planet, but ensuring the ecosystem of your business is as green as possible. That means not just rooting your company’s values in a sustainable approach, but matching that with your infrastructure.
For retailers, one such example is found in logistics. It’s no good marketing recycled bamboo products, for instance, if the delivery system you use is only going to pump more CO2 into the atmosphere. Courier service CitySprint adds that “as a primary emitter of greenhouse gases, the transport and logistics industry have a key responsibility to help tackle the issue of air pollution to reduce our carbon footprint”.
2. Embrace diversity
Race, gender and disability equality is a fraught topic, but a public-facing retail outfit (or any business for that matter) needs to be on top of diversity and inclusion (D&I) and let the world know what they think and how they put it into practice. If we use the metric of Gen Z values, the leading brands will be the ones that can take a stand and make diversity and inclusion a visible part of their mission.
Many apparel and fashion retailers are already doing more to make their product offerings more inclusive for less able-bodied people. Gen Z Insights shows how numerous big brands “have won over” this demographic “by creating stylish yet functional fashion lines for people with disabilities”. Looking ahead, other ways to further equality and inclusion may be by moving towards gender-neutral clothing, for example.
It’s not just down to which products you offer, either. Diversity and inclusion is about having difficult internal conversations about power and internal structures. In retail, WWD claims that “while women largely fuel the industry’s sales, they’re not really steering the ships. Fashion doesn’t veer very far from the standard lack of female leaders across sectors”.
Your brand may pay lip service to greater opportunities for customers, but if your younger customers see a lack of diversity at the top — whether that’s gender, race or disability — this will prompt some searching questions.
3. Value workers’ rights
Times have been hard for Gen Z. They faced the largest unemployment rate during the pandemic, and are expected to have even more financial difficulty in the years ahead. The TikTok generation are hardly Marxists, but their anti-capitalist sentiment should be taken seriously.
As Shots suggests, “when you consider that workers (primarily Gen Z and women) lost $3.7 trillion during the pandemic while the world’s collective billionaire class gained $3.9 trillion, it’s not surprising that Gen Z is connecting the dots”. More than anything, this generation wants to be paid enough to at least cover the cost of living, and enjoy more rights at work such as mental health days and paid holiday — something which, across the retail industry, salaried workers receive, but not retail staff. The recent labour movements in the US demonstrate how younger generations are channelling their ire against Amazon and Starbucks into successful union campaigns for better working conditions.
To appeal to a weary, exploited demographic, your brand should be both planet-friendly and human-friendly. The Drum found that in a report on consumer expectations in this demographic, 34% “said that employers should prioritise pay equity and fair labour practices”. By meeting these expectations, you can signal the shared values you have with Gen Z customers, and show them that you practice what you preach.