Generation Z: influential futurists

Millennial mania is sweeping the world, but there’s good news for those weary of trying to understand or market to this group: Generation Z is now in charge of back-to-school shopping.

Generation Z, defined loosely as the group born beginning in the late 1990s, stands to dwarf the Millennial generation and will ultimately number close to 80 million, according to the U.S. Census. Mintel puts their spending power at close to $200 billion annually when you factor in their influence on parental or household purchases.

And Gen Z is just starting to really exert that influence, as evidenced by the current back-to-school shopping season. Roughly 9.7% of adults say their child influences 100% of what they buy , up from 7.6% last year.

“ When we look at the numbers of Generation Z, it’s clear that they will swallow the Millennials in terms of size ,” Sarah Davanzo, chief cultural strategy officer of marketing agency Sparks & Honey told WWD.  “They are unlike any generation that has come before them.”

Of course, we’ve heard that about Millennials and even about the often forgotten Generation X (the group to which I belong). And while each generation tends to age out of some group characteristics, there are usually some good markers that remain as sticking points.

This generation has a different set of characteristics than the Millennials that came before. Having been born post-911, they have never known a time that the United States has not been at war somewhere in the world. They came of age during the Great Recession and unlike Millennials, have no memory of the free-spending boom times that came before.

Gen Z has had two terms of an African American president, tackled bullying online and in school, and watched the nation go from conflict to acceptance and approval of gay marriage. They are more open minded, practical and solution-oriented than their Millennial elders.

“I believe this back-to-school season we will see more teens and tweens seeking options that allow them to design, create and customize back-to-school items, from clothes to pencils to lunchboxes,” Marcie Merriman, executive director, growth strategy and retail innovation, Ernst and Young, told FierceRetail. “They don’t care where they come from—the big retailers and little online startups have equal opportunity to gain Gen Z’s business. Startups may even have the advantage as they are viewed as unique and more exclusive.”

Gen Z has a more collaborative relationship with the adults in their lives, compared to Millennials and their helicopter parents. They are being given more independence to make decisions in all aspects of their lives, including at retail. And unlike Millennials, who like spending time at the mall, Gen Z prefers the immediacy and intimacy of personalized shopping online.

“To win the hearts and minds of this unique generation, retailers need to offer cool tools that put Gen Z in charge of the development process,” said Merman.

“They’ll need to accommodate Gen Z’s impatient tendencies by providing an easy and seamless creation and buying process, that gets products into their hands quickly and free of delivery charge. Mom and dad will also have less involvement–not getting the back to school items for them–as this becomes a creative process Gen Z wants to own.”

And if back-to-school is any indication, Gen Z will exert their independence during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

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