The new age of Generation Z Unlock report

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Gen Z are driving serious shifts in the US retail landscape. Just look at the Gen Z product trends we’ve seen so far; they’re selling out the Sephora shelves, bringing back New Balance sneakers, and buying Stanley tumblers like there’s no tomorrow. Not to mention, they’re using social media as a search tool over Google. 

So how else have Gen Z shopping habits changed? We’ll reveal what’s in the carts of today’s young Americans, and explore the major US Gen Z retail trends you need to target these “it” consumers in 2024.

But first, here’s a refresher on who Gen Z are, what matters to them, and why that matters to brands trying to target them in 2024. 

Who are Gen Z and how are they shopping?

Gen Z characteristics show they’re ambitious, nostalgic souls balancing work with wellbeing – and that includes financial health. They’re more money-driven than any other generation; in the US, 63% want to save more over the next 3 months. But even on a budget, Gen Z retail trends show these savvy shoppers are 18% more likely to browse end-of-season sales (versus Q4 2022). You’re probably wondering, where does Gen Z shop?

As digital natives, 56% of US Gen Z prefer to shop online than in-store. The number who buy products online at least weekly has jumped 28% since Q2 2020 – proof that their Covid shopping habits have stuck around, and actually become more ingrained than they were during the height of the pandemic. It’s a trend that’s unlikely to reverse.

So why is this dollar-conscious demographic so key to marketers? Gen Z are growing up fast and have more spending power than you might think. 

Many saved up over the last few years while living at home, and are now reaching new life milestones like moving out, getting engaged, and taking their first steps on the career ladder. With this comes a greater demand for products and services that support their new, financially independent lifestyles. We see this reflected in Gen Z shopping habits, and that’s where brands can really tap in. Let’s get into it.

Gen Z shopping trends in the US

  1. They’re buying a whole new wardrobe (literally)
  2. They’re embracing pet ownership
  3. They’re making their loyalty count
  4. They’re willing to wait ‘til the price is right
  5. They’re not (that) afraid of AI
  6. They’re buying into the big game
  7. They’re seeking sources of global news

1. They want a whole new wardrobe (literally)

A fresh wave of Gen Z in America plan to rent a new home in the next 6 months, which explains the year-on-year (YoY) surge in those shopping at HomeGoods (+38%) and Home Depot (+22%). The nature of rentals means just 14% are looking to redecorate – but this figure has risen 10% in this same timeframe, and coupled with increased interest in interior design (+17%), indicates a growing desire for home improvement among Gen Z. We blame Selling Sunset. 

So what are they buying for their own place? Gen Z shopping trends show a wardrobe is often their first big purchase, and they’re looking to fill it with new clothes from their favorite retailers, like Madewell (with visits +41% YoY), Abercrombie & Fitch (+24% YoY), and Urban Outfitters (+16% YoY).

Gen Z are 64% more likely than other generations to want others to like/notice what they’re wearing.

These Gen Z retail trends make a lot of sense when we consider the life stages they’re at. As they graduate from college and enter the working world (4 in 10 are looking to start new jobs in the next 6 months), many young Americans are also taking the opportunity to freshen up their fits for the office. #OOTD

2. They’re embracing pet ownership

Pets are a commitment many Gen Zs are happy to splash out on. But why are our furry friends becoming such a must-have? Gen Z product trends suggest the cost of living may have something to do with it.

Gen Z in the US are more likely to consider buying pet insurance than homeowner/property insurance.

While more Gen Zs are moving out and becoming more financially independent, those unable to afford home ownership are opting for pet companionship instead. Better work-life balance (very important to Gen Z) also makes pet ownership more accessible, and some workplaces are choosing to support their employees by offering pet insurance as a perk.

Naturally, this audience is buying more pet food for cats and dogs – and Gen Z shopping habits reveal their pet’s preferences (+22% YoY) to be one of the fastest-growing purchase drivers behind the brand of pet food they choose. As far as their favorite retailers go, Chewy is becoming more popular (+18% YoY). 

Year-on-year, purchases of pet accessories (+20%) and grooming supplies (+19%) are also up. With social media serving as a major source of inspiration for what they buy next, pet influencer partnerships are becoming increasingly lucrative for brands and consumers alike. 

3. They’re making their loyalty count

While under half of US Gen Zs (43%) say they’re loyal to brands they like, 37% use loyalty or reward programs. That’s a smaller proportion compared to other generations like millennials (46%) and baby boomers (58%) – but a growing trend is emerging here.

We already know Gen Z are smart, “loud budgeting” consumers, so it’s easy to understand why loyalty points are a growing purchase driver among this generation year-on-year (rising 19% in-store and 18% online respectively). Looking at Gen Z retail trends, these really come into play when booking trips and vacations, where reward points are more likely to dictate their choice of hotel or airline (+19%). 

The number of US Gen Z who say they’re members of a loyalty program has jumped 15% YoY.

Generally speaking, younger people have the least savings, the least purchasing power, and the least financial security. But this is exactly where brands have the opportunity to win their favor; Gen Z are looking for help, and loyalty rewards offer just that.

4. They’re willing to wait ‘til the price is right

Perhaps one of the most surprising Gen Z retail trends brands ought to know about is — well, how sensible they are. Coming of age during the pandemic and subsequent cost of living crisis, money’s on Gen Z’s minds – so even if there’s something they really want, they’re willing to save up for it. 

The number of US Gen Z who are willing to sacrifice other spending to buy a product sooner has dropped 13% YoY.

That said, impulse buying still happens to the best of us – and Gen Z are no exception. 26% in the US say they often make impulse purchases (+7% YoY). In fact, Gen Z are the least likely generation to say they usually research products online before buying them. Globally, it’s a behavior driven by social media (and TikTok specifically) – consumers no longer go looking for things to buy. Instead, brands need to meet consumers at their hangout spots while they’re looking for inspiration.

As more move out, start new jobs, and embrace the lifetime battle of paycheck vs. bills, US Gen Z shopping habits show they’re also looking for bargains right now. 71% would rather wait for a product to be on sale, while just 29% would rather buy a product now at full price. Deal hunting is becoming a bit of a hobby; they’re spending more time searching for discount codes (+14% YoY), and browsing for new products (+17% YoY). 

Familiarity isn’t everything, either. While 55% would rather pay more for a brand they know, 46% are happy to pay less for a cheaper own-brand product. There are plenty of opportunities for retailers to leverage their own-label brands, and use these Gen Z retail trends to increase brand loyalty during an increasingly fragile time.

5. They’re not (that) afraid of AI

Consumer fears around AI are growing at a similar rate to their excitement for future developments, but it seems Gen Z are more comfortable using AI than most.

If we zoom out a little, we see some interesting Gen Z shopping habits unfolding on a global scale. Looking at the online shopping behavior of Gen Z consumers in North America (the US and Canada) and Europe (France, Germany, Italy, and the UK):

  • 51% say they’d use AI for price comparison
  • 32% say they’d use AI for support with queries
  • 25% say they’d use AI for deal alerts

It’s no wonder then, that being able to use live chat facilities to speak to an online agent is an increasingly appealing purchase driver for Gen Z shoppers (+26% YoY). And as the tech develops and becomes more widespread, these savvy consumers may use AI tools more frequently to nail down deals and releases. Price and convenience clearly matter, and brands who can deliver a great online shopping experience (and as we mentioned, an even better reward points scheme) will win Gen Z’s loyalty.

6. They’re buying into the big game

If the “Taylor Swift effect” is to be believed, America’s in the midst of an exciting new era of sports fandom. We’re already seeing growing female fandom in the NFL, and it’s great news for marketers as it’s likely to have a knock-on effect on Gen Z retail trends.

Year-on-year, there’s been a 24% increase in Gen Z women following the NFL.

This effect is rippling out across the board, with a 29% rise in Gen Z consumers turning to social media to catch the latest sports highlights. More Gen Zs are following other sports leagues like ONE Championship (+60% YoY), Formula 1 (+53% YoY), and WWE (+47% YoY). Interest in women’s leagues has also jumped in this timeframe, particularly for the FIFA Women’s World Cup (+26%).

With US rules around gambling starting to relax in certain States, sports betting is also becoming more popular with Gen Z. Among those aged 21-26, there’s been a 16% rise in betting via a mobile device, and a 14% rise in those betting in the casino. Heavy advertising has a lot to answer for here. 

Sports engagement is unlikely to lose steam anytime soon, so it’s the ideal time for Gen Z-focused brands to take up advertising space – like Poppi during this year’s Super Bowl. Rolling out carefully-considered partnerships and activations now will engage and excite new Gen Z fans. We’re talking apparel, subscriptions, game day snacks – the possibilities are endless. Travis Kelce, take a bow.

7. They’re seeking sources of global news

In light of the US election this year, it’s inevitable that Gen Z’s interest in news and current affairs will grow; it’s already up 23% YoY, with digital news readership also rising 25%. So why do we think this is one of the most interesting Gen Z retail trends? While the youngest of Gen Z (under 18) can’t vote on the ballot yet, they can vote with their wallets. 

21% of Americans say they’ve boycotted a brand in the last 6 months, and Gen Z’s access to news via social media platforms like TikTok is massively influencing their activism. Just look at the anti-vaping trend that took off in response to cobalt mining in Congo

64% of US Gen Z think it’s important to have access to political news from other countries.

Their awareness of foreign conflicts may also explain why their interest in news stretches far beyond US shores. The Israel-Palestine conflict was a watershed moment at the start of the election cycle that remains on Gen Z’s minds today. We also see a 22% rise in Gen Z saying humanitarian causes and overseas aid are causes worth caring about. 

With international coverage more readily available on social media, more Gen Zs are turning to these platforms to watch clips or read articles (+34% YoY). But with the rise of AI-written articles and the potential for misinformation, it’s no wonder 68% of Gen Z in the US think it’s important for media sources to provide third-party fact checking measures on political news. They want to assess the facts, and form their own opinions from trustworthy sources – a desire shared by their fellow Americans. 

Gen Z find value in looking at a wide range of sources, hoping to understand different perspectives or finding the truth somewhere in the middle. As Gen Z shopping habits and retail trends go, publishers and media companies across the globe have the opportunity to impact Gen Z search journeys – especially on social media. With the right content and messaging, they can attract new readers in the US and boost digital subscriptions.

The new age of Gen Z Unlock the report

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