Millennial vs. Gen Z Shoppers: The Generational Differences Your Brand Needs to Know

Posted by: Ilana Bodker

Although both Millennial and Gen Z consumers make purchase decisions more often than not based on price (you can’t afford what you can’t afford, after all), these two generations have distinct nuances when it comes to their shopping mentality that will shape the future of the market.

Let’s dig into this.

Brand-Loyal vs. Brand-Aligned

Compared to Millennials, who have proven to be very loyal to a select number of favorite brands, Gen Z stands on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. In fact, they’re willing to switch to a higher quality brand that aligns with their desire to be unique, whereas Millennials stick to their tried-and-true brands regardless. Gen Z also utilizes more resources when researching their purchases, including the opinions of family and friends, online price comparisons, store associates and, of course, their social media networks. They are motivated by the goal of making informed purchases, possible because of the wealth of information available online and through social connections. As it turns out, Gen Z shoppers are twice as likely as Millennial shoppers to search YouTube for product reviews. Unlike these teens, a Millennial is less likely to note the number of Facebook likes a brand has accumulated.

Gen Z clearly uses technology in the pursuit of purchases, but in addition to, not instead of an in-store experience. They expect the customer experience to be consistent across all channels, including digital and brick-and-mortar.

Sephora, with its Sephora To-Go mobile app, assists customers with its easily accessible product recommendations, reviews and pricing. The beauty retailer’s website is also an easy-to-use tool with a targeted online search feature that allows customers to use 25 different search criteria to narrow down to their specific wants and needs. Customers can read reviews, view photos from other customers, and access makeup tutorials and blog posts. Additionally, the website allows consumers to view the exact product they purchased previously in-store, completing the circle of omni-channel uniformity. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that Sephora is consistently named as one of Gen Z’s favorite brands.

Online Shopping vs. In-Store Purchasing

Yet, despite their mobile dexterity, Gen Z prefers brick-and-mortar stores to online purchasing. Believe it or not, 98 percent of Gen Z claim to shop in-store. Millennials, in contrast, are more likely than their younger counterparts to make purchases from laptops or smartphones. This is likely explained by a few insights. First, both Gen Z and Millennial shoppers prefer spending money on experiences over things. Gen Z, however, wants shopping experiences that still result in material items, while Millennials disregard material products altogether and seek experiential purchases. Gen Z prefers brick-and-mortar stores as they have a greater potential for both materialistic and interactive customer journeys; Millennials prefer shopping online, where they, for the most part, have a frictionless path-to-purchase for the intangibles they seek.

Apple is one major brand that has capitalized on Gen Z’s desire for such an in-store retail experience. As one Apple executive contends, “People come to Apple for the experience, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it.” For years, Apple has remained the industry leader in customer service, mobile payment and digital innovation. They completely reinvented the retail space and transformed it into a blend of luxury, aesthetic and hospitality – all characteristics that align with the shopping experience Gen Zers have in mind.

Millennials love Apple, too, but they are interested in less product-focused means of entertainment. Rather, they aspire to spend money on travel costs and music festival tickets; in other words, on experiences that are viewed as authentic and in-the-moment. Home sharing service Airbnb is one brand that has found tremendous success marketing experiences to Millennials, as nearly half of the website’s users in 2016 were younger than age 35. Airbnb advertises a more authentic travel experience, allowing vacationers to ditch the tourist label by lodging in local housing rather than a hotel.

While the majority of Gen Z is too young to book their own vacations or trek cross-country just yet, the point remains that Gen Z shoppers are not a younger extension of Millennials. They are a unique generation with preferences and attitudes of their own that often fall far outside the realm that Millennials created. Could Gen Z go on to lead an entirely different movement of shoppers? Likely, but only time will tell.

Want more on Gen Z? Stay tuned for Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, coming Spring 2018. Pre-order here!

About Ilana Bodker

Ilana's background in publishing combined with a lifelong love of writing led her to her interest in advertising and marketing. She served as Junior Editor for Jeff Fromm and Angie Read's upcoming "Marketing to Gen...See Ilana's full bio.