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Reaching Gen Z: Modern Commerce and the Singular Brand Experience

January 31, 2024

industry insights melissa dixon

Gen Z, individuals born between 1997 – 2012, made up 20% of the US population in 2023, nestled right between Gen X (19%) and Millennials (22%).

By 2025, they’re projected to surpass Gen X in US digital shoppers, according to forecasts from Insider Intelligence.

As Gen Z’s buying power increases, so do their expectations of brands and retailers. More than 70 million strong in the US – and 2 billion globally – this complex cohort of digitally native, savvy consumers not only demands a seamless shopping experience, but also has a distinct set of values and behaviors that are forcing brands to rethink traditional retail strategies. 

The implication for brands, then, is that they have to pay close attention to where and how they shop, but they also need to know what makes Gen Z tick. To truly connect with them, brands and retailers must turn to modern tools and technologies to create a rich, unified brand experience that resonates with Gen Z. 

What we cover in this article:

  • How to offer Gen Z a smoother shopping experience 
  • How to connect with Gen Z shoppers
  • The number one attribute Gen Z considers when purchasing from a brand
  • How to build trust and loyalty with Gen Z

At BigCommerce, where I'm the Director of Brand and Content Marketing, we've run Global Consumer Reports of the current and future shopping trends and have found various insights regarding how Gen Z shops and how brands can use these shopping tactics to their advantage.

When you strip this concept down to its core, it’s all about creating connections on two levels: the technological level and the human level – and when these two areas converge, that’s when Gen Z converts. 

Technology: where and how Gen Z shops

From the technology side, interacting with Gen Z equates to optimizing your tech stack to remove friction from all touchpoints. They want convenience and clear communication from the moment they land on your website until their order is fulfilled. 

Alternative payment methods, like Buy Online, Pick Up In Store (BOPIS) and Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL), and secure one-page checkout are now table stakes. Hyper-personalized communication and experiences are essential, and unified omnichannel strategy is a must.

We’ve seen the lines between social media and marketplaces blur for years now, and Gen Z is at the forefront of this trend. Insider Intelligence found that half of all US Gen Z social users made purchases on social media in 2022, citing product discovery as the top reason for their purchases. TikTok reported that over 60% of its users are Gen Z, and that they are 1.4x more likely to learn about new brands and products than any other demographic on the video platform. 

Notably, US Gen Z shoppers prefer to shop in-store almost as much as they like to shop online (48% vs. 52%), but only with the high expectation that these experiences are entirely consistent, blending physical and digital elements. This rising “phygital” trend can be seen with in-store QR codes, tablets, and checkout kiosks, as well as with typically digitally native brands opening showrooms to create physical spaces for customers to shop. 

When it comes to payments, Gen Z embraces alternative methods to cash, such as digital wallets, contactless payments, and BNPL, a trend consistent with the rest of consumers. A clear indicator of the impact of BNPL, Bloomberg recently reported that these types of purchases made up $940 million of US Cyber Monday online spending – an increase of 42.5% over the previous year. 

Looking at the larger BNPL landscape, 55.1% of Gen Z made a purchase with BNPL in 2022, versus 48.6% of millennials. Those numbers are expected to climb to 59% of Gen Z and 53.6% of millennials by 2026, according to Insider Intelligence. 

Similarly, a 2022 report by Afterpay showed that 44% of US Gen Z shoppers used BNPL in the last 12 months, and that 20% of Gen Z consumers have abandoned their carts because their preferred payment method was not available. 

From product discovery to checkout, Gen Z demands options at every touchpoint. For brands and retailers, the call to action is clear: create a commerce approach that makes it easy to keep up with new technologies and fickle consumer preferences. 

Humanity: what Gen Z buys and why

Any marketer will tell you understanding your customers is at the heart of building a brand. The emotional connection that comes with feeling seen and heard is as important to the customer-brand dynamic as it is to any other relationship. Empathetic marketing creates a foundation of trust, which leads to repeat business and brand loyalty.

To empathize with Gen Z isn’t just about understanding their pain points as they relate to your specific product or service. You have to consider their distinct set of values in a broader sense and then layer those into your marketing. Chief among these are authenticity, individuality, and sustainability. 

In her book Gen Z 360, researcher and author Hana Ben-Shabat points out that 67% of respondents in her survey of Gen Z consumers said authenticity was the number one attribute when considering a brand for purchase. Therefore, brands have to ask themselves, “Do we have a strong brand mission and purpose?” and even more importantly, “Is it congruent with our actions?” 

Being real, honest, and authentic is the foundation for building trust and loyalty with Gen Z. And in the long run, Gen Z is the most likely of all the generations to spend on brands they love, with 64% indicating they would pay more to shop with brands they’re loyal to. 

Interestingly, though, recent research from GWI shows that “American Gen Zs don’t view their favorite brands in a ‘ride-or-die light’.” Rather, the numbers show they’re looking to loyalty programs and other incentives to solidify their bond with retailers, as the number of Gen Z shoppers who say loyalty points are important to them when shopping online has increased by 22% since Q4 2021. 

As consumers, Gen Z also places greater value than other generations on individuality. If standing out is paramount, then personalized shopping experiences are a must. The good news is that this digitally native generation is also the most willing to share their data with brands and retailers, according to findings in BigCommerce’s Global Consumer Report: Current and Future Shopping Trends.

In the same report, 92% of Gen Z respondents said that sustainability was either “important” or “very important,” versus 87% of millennials. The survey also showed that while consumers may not always be willing to pay more for sustainable products, they’re more willing to support a brand’s efforts by limiting days of delivery, promoting the brand to their friends, and picking up items in the brick-and-mortar store. 

Brand singularity and Gen Z

The best brands live at the intersection of technology and humanity. This is where you’ll find Nike, Lululemon, Fenty, YouTube, and E.L.F. cosmetics, among other top Gen Z brands. 

When we overlay empathetic, or customer-centric, marketing, with a flexible, modern tech stack, the result is a singular brand experience – singular in the sense that it is unified and cohesive, and singular in the sense that it is remarkable, memorable, and exciting. 

To achieve singularity, brands and retailers should focus on delivering a seamless shopping experience across channels, employing tools and integrations from best-in-class tech partners, presenting a consistent, authentic brand image, and delivering personalized content that aligns with Gen Z’s core values. 

Build a lasting connection

When it really comes down to it, connecting with Gen Z – and customers of all generations – means putting yourself in their shoes, being a good listener, and offering solutions that add value to their lives. All of these elements should be in place as your business builds a brand experience that resonates with your customers.

Intrigued to learn more from respected business leaders around the globe? Our G2 Tea Industry Insights teacup is always full of advice for connecting with customers.

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Reaching Gen Z: Modern Commerce and the Singular Brand Experience For businesses interested in reaching more Gen Z customers, Melissa Dixon shares how technology and humanity need to come together to make a connection.
Melissa Dixon Melissa Dixon is an accomplished content creator and people leader who has developed award-winning, original content programs for industry-leading brands. She is currently Director, Brand and Content Marketing at BigCommerce where she leads the company’s global content strategy, designed to educate and empower ecommerce businesses of all sizes.

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