Generation Z: Is retail communicating with them in the right way?

Generation Z is the next batch of bright young things; still young at 18 to 20 but soon to be the new influencers. It’s a small window so how can retailers align their thinking to stay on track with Gen Z in the here and now and also keep their loyalty over the longer term? It’s a difficult question but one that needs tackling: Communicate badly and they’re lost; communicate well and you will have committed advocates. Read on and I’ll share my insights and some practical advice that will make all the difference to how you view and approach this key market.

If we cut through the noise, as a creative agency we’re here to help our clients sell things. However, this hard-nosed approach must be tempered by communications that are salient to the audience making sure that the brand is culturally relevant to the individual whilst remaining true to itself. Not an easy task. Get it wrong and Gen Z won’t just ignore you they’ll actively hate you. And all their friends will hate you too.

In 2018 Ipsos Mori published its research findings into what makes Gen Z tick. Putting aside the usual caveats that come with any research, it’s a great starting point to help define an approach – even if that thinking continues to evolve just as Gen Z does. I’ve pulled out a few themes from the research which you can focus on.


Gen Z are fluid and don’t conform to stereotypes so how your brand communicates messages around age, sex, gender and what is ‘normal’ will have to change and reflect that approach. As Ipsos said: “Things are more open, less set, because people do have more ways to connect, see and experience more things.” What that means is that your communications will have to change and be more fluid to remain relevant.


Gen Z is more trusting than you think. Ipsos’ research concluded: “New analysis shows no real differences in levels of trust among the young with regards to all sorts of traditional institutions. It’s true, Millennials did mark a low point in trust in others – but now they are ageing, the differences are decreasing and Gen Z start adult life with much higher levels of trust.” From that insight you can take that Gen Z is more trusting but maybe less forgiving. This is because there’s now so much choice that if you do mess things up there are countless alternatives that will take your place with very little effort on the part of Gen Z.


Gen Z cares! Ipsos said: “The evidence suggests they are just as active in social causes as previous generations, sometimes in different ways (using technology), but just as often in traditional ways, such as volunteering.” Now, the cynic may suggest that it’s easy to care when caring is simply pressing the ‘like’ button. It is also clear that technology and social media networks can rally huge groups of people to a cause in a way never seen before. However, the reality is that this is the new activism and is a major way – if not the only way – of how Gen Z cares. It matters to them so it should matter to you.


The old clichés of sex, drugs and rock and roll are all a bit, well, passé. As Ipsos put it: “Generation Z are not the teenage rebels of ages past. Generational declines in youth crime, smoking, drinking and sexual activity reflect a significant behavioural shift.” I’d argue that this is an extremely broad brushstroke but it needs consideration. Many brands have had great success being disruptive, rebellious and channelling the energy of youth but such a binary approach may no longer be welcomed by Gen Z.


Gen Z is probably the first generation to be fully integrated with digital and social media. Although they may live and breathe it they are also of it. That means they will reject brands which use it badly or for transparent commercial means. Concerns over the connections between social media and mental health may also make this happy hunting ground for brands a place to be more cautious about. Ipsos’ viewpoint was: “Digital is double edged: this deep integration of digital communications into the lives of young people brings wider benefits in connection, social action, and self-expression – but also its own risks.”

What can you as retailers do?

Number one: Be more fluid. As we know, Gen Z is fluid and doesn’t conform to current stereotypes so carefully consider how your brand uses age, sex, gender and what is ‘normal’ in their marketing comms. This means casting models, art-directing shoots, dressing sets, choosing fonts and colours must all be driven by a consistent attitude rather than a consistent look and feel. This raises serious questions over how traditional brand books will be used in the future but don’t be blind to it as consistency is no longer about just looking consistent but being consistent in attitude, outlook and behaviour even if the presentation and content is fluid. The starting point for concepts and ideas should be built on Gen Z’s new cultural norms.

Number two: Understand Trust. Trust for brands used to be about service and product descriptions, setting expectations and delivering on them. But for Gen Z what is equally important is how brands actually do things and not just what they do. My advice is to not try and cheat the system; for example; promising quality content then delivering a veiled sales promotion will exponentially damage your profile. Make sure your ads are ads and that your content is genuine content.

In conclusion, whether you’re targeting baby boomers, Gen X or Gen Z we’re all humans and we’re creatures of habit. It’s just that Gen Z is truly breaking with traditions; keep earning their trust and they will stay by your side. Just make sure that they are shown the respect that they deserve.

Joe Chetcuti is the director of Front, the design, digital and branding agency.

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