What Motivates Gen Z Shoppers?

With their retail purchasing power said to account for about $360 billion in disposable income, Gen Z shoppers can’t be ignored. Born between 1997 and 2012 or so, per the U.S. Census, there are some 68 million in the U.S. And while Gen Z consumers have adopted many of the same shopping habits as their Millennial forebears, they are forging ahead with some of new behaviors of their own. 

They have their own perspectives and expect retailers to accommodate them in different ways. The following three defining Gen Z characteristics may explain their buying behaviors: 

Gen Z consumers grew up with smartphones and social media 

Gen Z consumers consider continual innovations to be the norm 

Gen Z consumers prioritize value when making purchasing decisions 

A recent Newsweek article claimed that retail price, quality, and traditional customer experiences aren’t enough for Gen Zers. MarketSource delved into the latest trends and research to help retailers better understand what it may take to motivate Gen Z shoppers to buy and become loyal customers. 

Gen Z Craves Experience

Just because Gen Zers spend hours each day on their phones doesn’t mean they don’t want to shop in person. They absolutely do. However, when they enter a store or interact with a brand, they seek an experience that will either inspire or entertain them. A recent survey found that 54% of Gen Z shoppers would prefer to spend money on an experience, while 46% would rather spend money on a product. 

Globally, 81% of consumers would pay more for experiences that elevate shopping. And it’s an expansive trend. Nearly 60% of global consumers expect that by 2025, more than half of retail space will be focused on experience rather than product. 

Think media walls… Instagrammable moments… classes… product demonstrations… try-on and try-out spaces aided by AI… musical performances… seasonal events… and other activities that involve shoppers with your brand. 

Gen Z Expects a Lot From Brands

Gen Zers are culturally and environmentally aware and tend to veer toward brands that express their shared values, especially pertaining to sustainability, social justice, and equality. 

Gen Z shopping habits are based not only on finding a good, fair-priced product; Gen Z shoppers are cognizant of how the company that sells the product interacts with them and the world. Salesforce data shows that more than 90% of both Millennials and Gen Zers share a desire for honest and transparent communication… consistency in all their interactions with a company… and assurances that their customer information is used responsibly.  

One report states that while millennials seek sustainability in brand messaging, Gen Z wants to know the details of retailers’ supply chains. Acutely aware of false environmental claims, Gen Z consumers apparently wants brands to prove their claims through supply chain transparency. 

Gen Z is Individualistic

Gen Z’s loyalty to brands, value sensibility, and attunement to meaningful causes puts pressure on brands to make every interaction count. The emphasis should be on customizing each interaction to the interests and shopping habits of the individual. 

Salesforce reports that both Millennials (95%) and Gen Z (91%) want to be treated as individuals, not numbers, and respond best to promotions and offers that show brands are listening to them and even anticipating their desires. When it comes to personalization, retailers should take heed and consider upping their game, as 70% expect brands to understand their expectations. 

To this end, it’s important for retailers and brands to gather and use customer data in ways that will create shopping experiences unique to the person. Discounts and rewards on Gen Z brands should relate to particular types of purchases, and promotions should demonstrate an understanding of a shopper’s interests. 

Gen Z is Social

According to a Salesforce report, 64% of Gen Z consumers comfortably browse and make purchases through Instagram, Facebook, and similar platforms. Gen Z are digital natives, so little surprise there. 

In fact, the top ways Gen Z  hears about new products and services are typically through social media, whether it’s through ads (38%) or posts (33%). 

During the several hours a day that Gen Zers spend on social media, they are exploring and comparing products, and want to keep pace with hot trends. They are heavily swayed by social influencers rather than online reviews and ads. 

Yet, they are just as likely to head over to a physical store to finalize a purchase decision. As the Newsweek article says, “They see shopping as a social excursion and prefer brands that also offer them unique immersive experiences.” 

That experience most commonly includes time spent on their mobile devices checking out the brand’s apps, searching for deals, and, according to Newsweek, scanning QR codes on shelves to get further product information like AskMe® by MarketSource offers. To Gen Z, there is no separation between physical and digital shopping; it’s just shopping. 

Gen Z’s thinking is pervading other generations, too. Some 48% of Americans aged 18-34 have purchased from social media. Experts predict social commerce will top $30 billion in sales in 2023, making up 20% of global retail e-commerce sales. 

Gen Z is Frugal But Impulsive

Gen Zers have so far proven to be deal hunters. According to Consumeraffairs.com, Gen Z dollars have 86% less purchasing power than did baby boomers when they were in their twenties. 

Having grown up with the stresses of economic volatility, a pandemic, and the effects of post-pandemic inflation, according to a recent report, Gen Zers “want to see real value in any products they consider purchasing.” 

In alignment with their advocacy for sustainability, Gen Z consumers also have a preference for second-hand and vintage-product purchases. One survey shows they are 27% more likely to shop this market. 

In addition, 71% prefer to wait for a product to be on sale, and only 29% would rather buy a product new at full price. Brand loyalty does drive sales, as 55% would rather pay more for a brand they know, yet spontaneous purchasing is still a thing: 25% are apt to buy on impulse.

In what has been dubbed “selective indulgence,” research from McKinsey suggests that even though dollar-stretching is on most consumers’ minds, 40% of younger consumer (both Millennials and Gen Zers) intend to give in to the urge to splurge, particularly on apparel and footwear; travel; and restaurants, but less on household goods and jewelry. 

Welcoming Gen Z to Your Store

Gen Zers represent the up-and-coming demographic that retailers will be catering to over this and future decades. To succeed with Gen Z shoppers, retailers must be agile. They must be innovative. And they must be willing to meet the changing expectations that evolve with the fast pace of progress. Gen Z is a rising economic powerhouse, and their needs and desires are worth satisfying with an elevated shopping experience. However, cultural and economic shifts can alter spending habits, and retailers that are “ready for anything” may be best prepared to navigate rough waters and sail to continued success.


Top 2023 Generation Z Statistics 


million Gen Zers live
in the United States


of Gen Zers use Instagram
at least once per day


of Gen Zers say they plan on leaving
their job within the next two years

Climate change
is Gen Z’s greatest fear

Source: Exploding Topics 

Overone-third of social media
influencers are Gen

Ready to talk?

We can create your ultimate Gen Z readiness strategy, designed to help you win new customers, improve loyalty, and accelerate sales.

Author: Karen Salamone

Author: Karen Salamone

Karen is Head of Marketing for MarketSource. She is a transformational B2B and B2B2C leader with a history of building marketing organizations, content teams, and demand generation centers of excellence from the ground up. She is recognized for delivering meaningful insights and fresh approaches and for earning best-in-class content, design, and multi-media awards.

Want More Sales?

Subscribe now to receive occasional emails with insights that help you accelerate profitable growth, risk reduction, market expansion, and revenue velocity.
What are you waiting for?