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Gen Z Is Convinced That Product Quality Is Getting Worse

New Morning Consult data shows that user-generated content plays a much bigger role in the young generation’s shopping experience relative to all U.S. adults, which is likely contributing to this perception
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May 29, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

    • A plurality (44%) of Gen Z adults believe that, in general, companies care less about making high-quality goods today than they did in the past.
    • Gen Z adults (44%) are also much more likely than the general population (30%) to report seeking out user-generated content about brands online prior to making purchase decisions — a finding that comes as discussions about product quality are going viral across several social media platforms.
    • Marketers must understand that online narratives exert an outsized influence on young consumers' perceptions and shopping habits. Well-supported social listening and digital community management practices can be effective tools for brands looking to minimize the risks — and exploit the opportunities — associated with this fact. 

In recent months, social media posts calling out a perceived decline in product quality across industries have racked up millions of views and thousands of comments, seemingly all expressing a similar sentiment: that, for whatever reason, lots of things just aren’t made quite as well as they once were. Even the cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which just last week ran a skit lamenting the ills of fast fashion, seems pressed about the overall state of craftsmanship. 

A new Morning Consult survey quantifies the extent to which these narratives have permeated the general public, finding that 38% of U.S. adults believe companies now care “less” about making quality products than in the past. That’s roughly equal to the share who believe companies care “about the same,” (37%) but much larger than the share who said they care “more” (15%).  

Higher shares of Gen Z adults feel negatively, however, and their penchant for seeking out shopping advice online is likely at play. 

Gen Z’s opinion on product quality is in the red

As videos bemoaning modern product quality continue to attract large audiences online, close to half (44%) of Gen Z adults said brands are no longer committed to producing high-quality goods.

A majority of this kind of content has gone after clothing retailers, and a separate survey question revealed that Gen Z adults view the apparel industry as the worst product quality offender. Meanwhile, categories like technology and beauty are faring a bit better.

A plurality of Gen Z adults think brands are caring less about product quality

Shares who said that, in general, companies care “___” about making quality products than in the past…
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Survey conducted Mar. 16-18, 2024 among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

There is certainly some evidence to suggest that product quality actually has gotten worse over the years. But repeated exposure to sweeping negative characterizations online appears to be entrenching this idea in the minds of Gen Z consumers, posing reputational risk (albeit mild) for many brands. Popular narratives around declining product quality could also further intensify Gen Zers’ already-strong inclination for brand-switching.

For Gen Z, what is said online often goes

Gen Z adults are 14 percentage points more likely than the average consumer to consult user-generated content on social media when looking to make a purchase (44% versus 30%, respectively). And while this behavior sits behind others like reading reviews directly on brands’ websites, it’s still an important part of the Gen Z shopping journey.

Close to half of Gen Z adults search brand narratives on social prior to purchase

Shares who said they did the following prior to making non-essential purchases recently:
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Survey conducted Mar. 16-18, 2024 among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

A key group driving online conversations about brands and products, of course, is influencers — who young people increasingly trust to deliver sound advice on these topics. 

Still, not all posts can be sponsored. Consumers have free will to publicly share their experiences with brands, good or bad — and psychology tells us that the latter is much more likely than the former. Plus, as the creator economy matures, influencers are getting more comfortable criticizing their brand partners for any less than ideal behavior. 

That’s all to say — brands have a diminishing amount of control over their messaging online, a channel where creative control was already limited to begin with. Negative narratives do circulate, and without certain safeguards in place, they can flourish — especially among young, culture-driving consumers who place a premium on information gleaned from internet peers. 

Protecting against unpredictable internet storylines

To mitigate that possibility and work toward fostering loyalty among Gen Z shoppers instead, companies should consider investing in social listening and digital community management programs. 

The former allows for always-on visibility into trending consumer narratives, which can then be used to inform compelling, real-time messaging. For example, if a post goes viral calling out a brand’s false advertising of premium materials, that could be enough of a prompt for competitors to send out an email blast highlighting their own product quality prowess.

The latter ensures companies can quickly and directly engage with consumers — a function that becomes especially important if and when a brand finds themselves the target of the internet’s ire. 

Ultimately, brands will always be subject to the whims of social media and the savvy Gen Zers who rule it. Previous Morning Consult research shows that most companies can recover from one-off viral incidents, but persistent negative buzz presents bigger challenges. A proactive approach is the best bet for those looking to future-proof their online presence. 

A headshot photograph of Ellyn Briggs
Ellyn Briggs
Brands Analyst

Ellyn Briggs is a brands analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises brand and marketing leaders on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Ellyn worked as a market researcher and brand strategist in both agency and in-house settings. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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