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Gen Z – Malika Alidina’s take on reinventing retail


We talk about Gen Z, write about them and even try to analyse them. But how often do we get a Gen Z themselves to pen their opinions and express what they really think about the way moving forward? Well, not that often. That’s exactly why when Malika Alidina offered to share her thoughts on the retail space, we had to feature it.

As you walk through the supermarket or clothing store, you will most definitely come across tweens and young adults armed with their mobile phones looking for styles that are quite unorthodox to you and me. Meet Generation Z. This is the generation that has grown up not knowing what the world looked like without the internet, smartphones or digital devices.

It’s no secret that the retail industry is currently attempting to evolve to cater to the needs of this new demographic. Misled by the millennials, however, the industry is focussing almost too aggressively on shifting online to ensure the loyalty of this generation, which might not necessarily be the right way moving forward. Let me explain why.

It is evident that much of the Gen Z population is glued to its mobile devices and spends free time online and therefore not surprisingly, 25 per cent of respondents claimed they were online for five hours or more each day according to an IBM and National Retail Federation executive report. But since they are so familiar with the technology, there are very high expectations that need to be met, which is not currently the case with many online stores. Currently, online clothing stores are somewhat difficult to navigate with apps being ‘too slow’ or not engaging enough to match the expectations of the demographic. Due to this, the study found that only 17 per cent of Gen Z consumers use their mobile devices for online shopping and the primary use for the device is texting or chatting. Right now, the online shopping world is in its foetal stage and needs to be heavily modified to ensure that websites can be navigated easily and apps can be downloaded quickly, however currently, the digitalisation of the retail industry is not up to par with a real-life shopping experience.

An executive report by IBM and the National Retail Federation on the subject, which included a study of over 15,000 consumers aged 13-21 years from 16 different countries, highlighted that technology isn’t the only thing what Gen Z is looking for.

Protect their privacy

Generation Z has been very uniquely described a “digitally-native, high-spending demographic”, who are aware of mistakes made by the previous generation and have learnt to be more cautious over their security and privacy rights. In the digital world, there is an abundance of online shopping websites that do not ensure the security and privacy of personal information which means that often the young adults steer away from buying online and would much rather go to a store where their privacy is not jeopardised. This resulted in 97 per cent of the total surveyed to prefer shopping at a store, instead of online. Therefore, for a retailer to ensure that their customer will come back and use their digital platform, 61 per cent of Gen Z need more information on how they will store their personal data as well as needing secure storage and protection of that data. If the brand does not demonstrate sufficient transparency in protecting sensitive personal information, moving from stores to online websites will be an unnecessary venture.


Quality over quantity

With Generation Z mostly spending their money on clothing, their view on the amount of money worth spending is juxtaposing to the view of previous generations. The young adults will happily pay more money if the quality of the product is better and will shop at several different brands rather than one. This is contrasting to the viewpoint of millennials who lived through the facade of “cheap and cheerful”. Online shopping as a market has not grown the way it has predicted to grow because often the prices are much lower than store bought items. Since it is cheaper it causes the demographic to doubt the quality of the product and therefore returns to a shop with the quality can be assessed. Loyalty?

When the entire market is at their fingertips, brand loyalty is somewhat archaic to Gen Z and therefore when it comes to shopping, they look for styles that are new, exciting and different from your clichéd business attire and generalised t-shirts. To fully grasp the market, retailers need to steer away from niche celebrity-oriented styles and aim for bold and daring ideas that allow this generation to be the innovators and entrepreneurs they aspire to be. For example, when American Eagle Outfitters debuted a range of lingerie entitled Aerie, they used ‘natural’ models that were not heavily edited and the company received a 21 per cent increase in sales.

Personalise the experience

Further to this, what retailers need both online and in stores is a more immersive shopping experience that allows their market to interact with the brand. 44 per cent of Gen Z individuals wanted to have a “chat” section on websites, where they could share their experience and receive further information on products. As retailers are moving online, what needs to be taken into consideration is that the shopping experience still needs to be personalised and have the same effect of shopping at a store. Several successful companies now have a team that works specifically for the online website as sales executives and each time new person logs into the website, the person can get help from a sales executive, very like real life, creating a trustworthy and transparent site.

So, does the digital-native Generation Z want to shop online?

The current truth is that they simply do not. This is because digital shopping does not have the same experience as going to a store and trying on clothes and interacting with sales employees. But, what needs to be clarified is that just because they currently do not want to shop online doesn’t mean that they will not. The retail industry just needs to refine the online shopping experience to ensure that it becomes transparent and seamless whilst maintaining an immersive experience for the young shoppers. Whether that retail evolution involves having robot sales executives or virtual reality headsets that allow the customers to virtually browse stores, technology is in abundance, the retail industry just needs to use it effectively.

Rushika Bhatia

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.