How Millenial and Gen-Z retail habits are changing after COVID

While there has been much talk about the great shift and existential challenge that COVID-19 poses to retailers, we have heard less about the impact at a generational level.
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While there has been much talk about the great shift and existential challenge that COVID-19 poses to retailers, we have heard less about the impact at a generational level.

While there has been much talk about the great shift and existential challenge that COVID-19 poses to retailers, we have heard less about the impact at a generational level. From the maligned ‘boomers’ down to Millenial and Gen-Z retail habits – COVID has impacted shopping habits for these groups in different ways, each of importance for retailers to understand.

To get a better understanding of the situation, we reached out to Jasmine Glasheen (or as she’s known on Instagram ‘The Millenial Retail Savant’). Author, writer and expert on the changing attitudes amongst young consumers, Jasmine has written about retail for many publications including Retail Wire and the Robin Report, so a huge thanks to her for taking the time out of her busy schedule to give us the lowdown on a highly topical issue – the evolving habits of millenial and gen-z consumers in light of COVID-19.

TruRating: COVID-19 has impacted consumer trust across the board, but you’ve focused specifically on Millenial and Gen-Z retail concerns – is there a real difference in attitude for these groups?

Jasmine: Absolutely. Millennials had the benefit of proms, high school graduations, and touring prospective colleges in person. We have also already lived through a recession, so we know a bit more about what to expect. While millennials are definitely suffering from COVID – worried about the health of our parents, concerned for the future of our children, and uncertain about our own economic future; Gen-Z’s young adulthood has ground to a screeching halt. As I recently wrote for The Robin Report, the mental health implications of this are extreme and trickle down to next-gen consumer purchasing behavior. 

TruRating: For Gen-Z in particular ‘coming of age’ during a crisis seems to be something that will have a long-lasting impact – are we about to see a completely different kind of consumer group once again?

Jasmine: There will be the Gen-Z consumers that try to save as a result of the COVID crisis, and those that take on a ruthless “carpe diem” purchasing mentality. However, both segments will take brand ethics into account. 

TruRating: Are we seeing the ‘socially conscious consumer’ move into being a dominant force in the next generations?

Jasmine: The socially conscious consumer already is a dominant force. Consumers’ sharpening moral compass impacts everything from what subscriptions they buy to what retailers they engage with.  The DTC subscription box with over 1 million subscribers, FabFitFun, just announced a shift towards environmentally friendly-packaging. And just take a look at how huge brands like Adidas, Nike, etc. are taking action once being called out by the #pulluporshutup campaign on social media. 

Consumers’ sharpening moral compass impacts everything from what subscriptions they buy to what retailers they engage with.

TruRating: In terms of actual consumer behaviour – what differences are we seeing, in terms of online and mobile first dominance?  Do you expect to continue to see growth in alternative models like subscription play in the future?

Jasmine: Online purchasing has obviously catapulted, and shipping and delivery options have become the new Roman colosseum where retailers duke it out. With that said, there is a big segment of next-gen consumers that can’t wait to get back in stores to start living their lives again. A lot of what happens next depends on whether we actually develop a coronavirus vaccine, or cases just start to peter out with time. If the former happens, expect physical retail to emerge stronger than ever before. In case of the latter, we won’t  see a complete return to brick and mortar shopping in the next decade. 

TruRating: You touched on the impacts of mental health and its relationship to retail – can brands really provide meaningful support there?

Jasmine: Absolutely. Brands create community by bringing together segments of the population that share common interests but may not have a forum to connect otherwise. As next-gen’s mental health concerns escalate, I strongly believe that brands need to provide resources––phone numbers to mental health crisis lines, online video of influencers transparently discussing their personal struggles,  and free content such as yoga classes to the next-gen customers who keep their business afloat. It’s a new moral imperative for brands marketing to next-gens. 

TruRating: Are we seeing a trending difference there between Millennial and Gen-Z attitudes?

Jasmine: Millennials are scared while Gen-Z is angry. 

TruRating: What is your advice to retailers looking to connect and speak to younger demographics?

Jasmine: Get honest. There’s no more brushing anything under the table anymore. Retailers are expected to be leaders in the movements of our time––from urging customers to wear masks, to providing an online community for isolated next gens, to transparently reviewing their own board in light of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Retailers that remain tepid and boring will get bowled over by those taking action. Just take a look at Ann Taylor. 

Retailers are expected to be leaders in the movements of our time––from urging customers to wear masks, to providing an online community for isolated next gens, to transparently reviewing their own board in light of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

TruRating: How big a role does you think this will play on the making or breaking of certain retailers – is this sector specific e.g. beauty/fashion vs. say homeware?

Jasmine: Beauty is being politicized in a big way, largely because social media has become the networking epicenter for beauty brands and purchases. But it wont be long before this extends to all sectors. Millennials are shopping at garden centers as much as their parents nowadays, and college age Gen Z-ers will be rolling through soon.

TruRating: How hopeful are you for retail generally in being able to ride out COVID? 

Jasmine: Agile, socially-conscious and connected brands will thrive. But many will have to call on the communities they serve to make that happen. 

For more from Jasmine above and beyond Millenial and Gen-Z retail trends, follow her on social at the usual places Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. And be sure to check out her regular contributions over at the Robin Report.

Jasmine is a talented writer and content strategist in her own right – so if you could use a little help there, why not stop by her website Jasmine Glasheen & Associates to get in touch.

Expect more from experts here soon as we explore the evolving retail environment and if you haven’t already check out some of our past greatest hits.

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