Carly Martinson is our guest blogger this week. She is a rising Freshman at Babson College, an avid golfer, and resident expert on Gen Z.
As an 18-year old female who has considered shopping to be among my favorite pastimes over the past six years, I feel well qualified to speak on behalf of my fellow Gen-Z consumers when answering the following question: What is it exactly that attracts young people to browse and spend in some stores and ignore others?
First, it should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog that Instagram and other forms of social media are major influencers when it comes to where my generation chooses to shop. Most members of the Gen-Z cohort - both male and female - use social media to track new fashions and discover trending stores.
For instance, Mandi M, my 18-year old friend from Connecticut who is heading off to college this year, says that she is heavily influenced by sponsored pictures that pop up on her Instagram: “This year, I’ve found myself drawn to Forever 21 because of the presence it has on social media. I like how I can see all of the cute outfits that I can put together before actually making a trip to the store!”
Most of my friends agree that the quality of a store’s Instagram account really matters. Retailers’ Instagram accounts that are unorganized or that don’t have a common theme tend to get ignored or are even looked down upon by my generation. For example, Urban Outfitter’s Instagram account works because it specializes in trendy, fashionable clothing that is built for comfort, likewise Free People's Instagram is effective because it consistently features boho looks.
While making this point, Inaya A, a 16-year old rising junior in high school, commented: “When I use Instagram, I find that I’m more attracted to accounts that have a more appealing layout. If each picture is extremely different and the account doesn’t have a theme, then I find myself turning away from the account and the store itself.”
Another major factor that influences where Gen Z consumers shop includes the look and feel of the retail store. In my most recent excursion to the mall, I found that I was attracted to the stores that appeared to be less crowded (merchandise-wise) and had a common trend of clothing. For example, while walking by the Michael Kors store, I could not resist stopping to admire the carefully constructed, color-coordinated window displays that showed off three featured sets of shoes and accessories. The fact that there were only 3 sets of merchandise displayed on well-spaced and well-lit shelves, drew my eye to the quality and attractiveness of the handbags and other apparel. Naturally, I went into the store for a look around and was impressed to see that although there wasn’t a lot of merchandise on display, each item was on trend and was grouped together by color. On the other hand, I chose to bypass the stores that featured crowded window displays or those that had crowded or disorganized racks of clothing that made me feel overwhelmed.
Once the allure of a window display grabbed me and I entered a store, several factors significantly affected the amount of time that I remained there. In general, I believe that most Gen Z consumers appreciate hearing popular music while shopping, as long as it’s not too loud and remains in the background. And while it’s nice to be greeted by a friendly clerk who offers to help, it’s a real turn-off to be pressed into buying. Retailers need to make sure that clerks and cashiers smile and greet customers, offer their opinions when asked, and help find sizes and answer questions (when prompted). Otherwise, clerks should give shoppers a chance to browse without feeling pressured. Apparel should be sorted by color and size and racks should be easy to access. I can’t tell you the number of times my friends and I have left a store because the racks are jammed with clothing or we couldn’t find a pole to retrieve items on a high hook. Full length mirrors placed strategically throughout the store are essential. Dressing rooms should be fitted with at least 4 hooks (one each for yes, no, maybe and yet to be tried). Lastly, it’s important that stores place seating outside of dressing rooms, so that our (tired) parents and (bored) significant others don’t cut our shopping short.
To summarize, when initially choosing which stores to visit, my generation is strongly influenced by social media. Simply stated, the more a store appears on a well constructed social media app, like Instagram, the more likely a Gen-Z will shop there. Secondly, the aesthetic appeal of a storefront will draw us into the store and the atmosphere and organization will keep us shopping. We will be quick to exit shopping experiences that cause us stress: whether that’s due to pushy or unpleasant clerks or chaotic displays. By keeping the store less crowded with items, and by placing artfully displayed on trend items in the front, the store will attract and retain more customers like me.
Although online shopping is convenient, people of my generation still absolutely love to go shopping! It’s fun to try on trendy outfits that we would otherwise pass on while shopping online as being too risky. It’s great to get instant feedback on a look or a color. And, most importantly, shopping in retail stores is much more likely to end with a satisfying purchase that we love.