How Gen Z Shops

The youngest consumers shop a lot, shop often, and have fun doing it
May 28, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Gen Zers, particularly in their teens, are the most agnostic about if they like to shop online or in stores. More than one-third (38%) of 13-17 year olds said they don’t prefer one option over the other.

  • Gen Z adults are big shoppers. They make more discretionary purchases than most, and are especially likely to make 5 or more purchases per category per month.

  • That shopping volume allows them to sample new brands more often: they’re the most likely generation across categories to say they’ve purchased something from a new-to-them brand in the last month.

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Gen Zers are big shoppers. These young adults consistently outpace the general population in spending on apparel, home furnishings and personal care products. This unabated discretionary consumption shows no signs of slowing, despite the generation’s relatively low sense of financial well being. In part, that’s because they have fun doing it: 44% of Gen Zers say shopping online is very enjoyable (46% for in stores), compared to 36% and 37% of the general population, respectively.

Their similar levels of enjoyment of shopping online or in stores are reflected in the ways they interact with brands and retailers: everywhere, all the time. For discretionary spending in particular, shopping is a form of entertainment. It can serve as a social outlet, a status signal, or just a way to spend time, whether the shopper is at the mall or on their couch. 

Gen Zers are becoming more channel agnostic

The youngest Gen Zs, aged 13 to 17, are more channel agnostic than any other cohort. Nearly 2 in 5 (38%) say they have no preference for shopping online or in stores. In general, 36% say they prefer shopping online, and the remaining 26% said they prefer stores. 

Gen Zers do show a dominant preference for one shopping experience over the other in some retail categories. For example, even teens think shopping in stores for clothing is preferable to shopping online, indicating that the pain of getting the wrong size or an item not appearing as expected is universally felt across generations. 

Even teens prefer shopping in stores, though less so than older Gen Zers

Shares of Gen Zers who prefer to make purchases in each channel:
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Survey conducted from Dec. 5-21, 2023, among a representative sample of 1,007 Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 26, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. “I do not purchase products from this category” are not shown.

Teens are less inclined to prefer stores than their older Gen Z counterparts in the 18-26 year old cohort. That’s due in part to life stage factors, such as the fact that many of them can’t drive yet and don’t have as much independence in when and where they can shop. It’s also due to the omnipresence of e-commerce in their lives, which no doubt will be influential as they age into adulthood. While this cohort will be the most e-commerce dependent we’ve seen yet, building differentiated brand experiences in stores must remain a priority.

Gen Zers are high volume shoppers

Gen Zers consistently shop at higher volumes, particularly in discretionary categories like apparel, beauty and personal care, and personal electronics compared with the general population. In the apparel category, 73% of Gen Z adults reported making at least one purchase in the last month, compared to 62% of all respondents, and 13% said they made five or more apparel purchases in a month, a number that falls to just 7% for the general population. Home furnishings is the only discretionary category where their volume trends lower than other generations, but that’s just because they haven’t aged into home ownership yet. 

Gen Zers outpace others in purchasing personal electronics

Shares of respondents who made purchases in each category last month:
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Survey conducted from March 25-28, 2024, among a representative sample of 2,228 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. “I did not make any purchases in this category within the past month” responses are not shown.

Gen Zers are not just likely to have made at least one monthly in the categories illustrated above, they over-index on the highest volume on our scale, making five or more apparel or personal care purchases in a given month. 

This high frequency shopping behavior gives retailers ample opportunity to engage customers and cement their loyalty. Driving engagement through apps and SMS outreach that reaches Gen Z shoppers where they are — on their phones. 

Gen Z tries new brands often

That high volume, frequent shopping lends itself to trying new things. When asked if they’d purchased a product from a new-to-them brand in the last month, Gen Zers consistently come out ahead of the general population across discretionary categories. Conversely, baby boomers tend to stick with the familiar.

Trying new brands frequently is common for Gen Z

Shares of respondents who purchased a new brand in the last month
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Shares of respondents who purchased a new brand in the last month Methodology: Survey conducted from March 25-28, 2024, among a representative sample of 2,228 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

This behavior isn’t limited to simply the past month, and is taking a foothold among more than just Gen Zers. Shoppers of all generations are trying new brands more often than they were last year. This trend is bolstered by gains in consumer confidence, and driven by an underlying desire to achieve social status and be part of the in crowd, which are common traits of Gen Zers.

Claire Tassin is a retail and e-commerce analyst. She conducts research on shifting consumer behaviors and expectations, as well as trends relevant to marketing leaders in the retail sector.
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