Gen Z and millennials shop local and with purpose

Credit: 5WPR
Credit: 5WPR

As COVID-19 accelerates the shift to online shopping, younger consumers are seeking out local businesses and brands that align with their values.

E-commerce is taking off among people of all ages, but especially for tech-native millennials and GenZers, according to a whitepaper on consumer culture from public relations firm 5WPR. 

The report, based on a Censuswide survey of 2,000 U.S. citizens over the age of 16, details Gen Z’s values and shopping habits. 

On average, Gen Z spent an additional 43 minutes per day shopping online in 2020 compared to the year prior. While respondents agree they miss shopping in stores, only 38% said that they prefer finding new products in-stores, down from 58% last year, indicating that the shift online may be permanent. 

E-commerce activity among Gen Z has also grown as the pandemic has dragged on. Online spending for the cohort increased 30%, $347 billion, in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, as consumers adapted to an e-commerce-first mindset. 

Dara Busch, president of 5W’s consumer practice, said the main driver in the increase in online shopping is that Gen Zers are spending more time online overall. 

“People have found time,”she said. “People aren't commuting, people are more efficient, because of working from home. They have more time to invest in diving deep and trying to find the right things online.” 

As shopping local becomes a big focus for reviving communities during the pandemic, 65% of respondents said they adjusted their shopping behaviors to support local businesses, and 77% agreed that shopping online has allowed them to buy products from new or smaller companies.

“There's a reemergence of people wanting to shop local,” Busch said. There's this really big push for people to shop locally to feel connected to whether it's a product or a store or a store owner.” 

Gen Z is also willing to spend more on products that reflect their values and beliefs. Thirty six percent of Gen Z respondents say they enjoy buying products that display their social and political beliefs. Cancel culture is also still very much alive, with 45% of Gen Zers abandoning a brand for their stance on an issue.  

And while Gen Z is also very willing to spend money -- 47% of respondents admitted to  splurging and making impulse purchases -- they have a very strong radar for inauthenticity.

“Gen Z isn't afraid to stand for something,” Busch said. “And they want to make sure that people know that they stand for something.”

While a majority of respondents said they buy products they see on social media, brands should be careful to convey their value authentically as social platforms become more cluttered with sponsored posts. Younger audiences are flocking to TikTok to make purchases because the app has been able to maintain a stronger sense of authenticity, Busch said.

“There used to be this feeling that [Gen Z and millennials] see something and impulse buy it on social media,” Busch said. “But they realize that there's so much sponsored content.  They are much smarter than ever,” Busch said. 

Gen Z is an especially desirable target for brands with a collective and growing spending power of nearly $150 billion. Combined, Gen Z and millennials spent nearly $3 trillion in 2020. 

The best way for brands to engage with this growing and lucrative audience is to “continue to make it easy for people to shop,” Busch said. 


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