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Consumer clash: Don’t call me 'old,' don’t call me 'young'


Move over millennials, there are two demographics ready to shake up the consumer landscape and impact retail sales.

Based on the growing monikers used to describe the generation that follows millennials, they could be dubbed 'the multi names'. While dispute rages over parameters, the post-millennial generation are loosely defined as those born in the mid-90s to 2010. Sometimes referred to as iGens, digital natives or the conflict generation, the most widely used and globally recognised name is Generation Z (Gen Z).

While the name debate rages on, marketers, researchers and analysts agree that Gen Z is "first and foremost a population tsunami" with current estimates at 2 billion Gen Z-ers globally.

Euromonitor International's 2011 Strategy Briefing details record growth in both emerging and established economies: more than a quarter of the U.S. population belongs to Gen Z (25.9% compared with 24.5% millennials), and as of 2009, India and China counted the largest numbers of teens and tweens with 286 million and 215 million respectively.

Still questioning the market impact of this young consumer group? Current estimates by Fitch (a design and brand consultancy) suggests that Generation Z will grow to be the single largest group of consumers worldwide within the next five to seven years.

However, before we start chasing the fountain of youth, don’t discount boomers – this group spends big (in the U.S., this generation currently has more discretionary income than any other age group, controlling most of the net worth of American households and accounting for 40% of total consumer demand), and plays hard.

In recent years, the term 'baby boomers' has transitioned to 'super boomers', as this demographic becomes increasingly tech-savvy, trend-driven and culturally aware.

Add in dedication to health and wellness, an active approach to travel, and a new breed of fashion and social-media influencers, and the result is a mature demographic that is a force to be reckoned with.

Surprisingly, Gen-Z and Boomers have similar consumer priorities, which means retailers can engage both demographics with similar engagement strategies – as the cool kids say, #winning.

WGSN is tracking global best practices, a few of which are outlined below:

Avoid age labels

Gen-Z is maturing more quickly than previous generations with one study suggesting that modern childhood ends at age 12, making “tween” sound passé for the majority of Gen-Z.

For boomers, age labels are often associated with pre-existing stereotypes, so avoid terms like old, elderly and senior.

Multi-generational merchandising

Boomers spend lavishly ($52 billion annually) on their children and grandchildren, and the addition of multi-generational visual merchandising (VM) and product displays yield great ROI with very little work.

Plan ‘reminder merchandising’ around key family events such as spring break and back-to-school; ahead of spring break, a Los Angeles Uniqlo store added multi-generational VM in high foot fall areas depicting a family at Disneyland.

A recent department store display Tom Dixon’s modern display of desks under a canopy of floating textbooks is a prime example of this retail strategy, as the subtle display is a great reminder for Boomers that school’s back in session.

Mix URL with IRL

Boomers and Gen-Z rule the internet. Boomers average 27 hours per week online (two hours longer than Millennials and Generation Xers) and are the largest growing demographic on Facebook. As the first generation raised on technology, Gen-Z is the ultimate consumer of bite-sized data and communication, averaging five screens while multi-tasking including a TV, smartphone, laptop, desktop and either a tablet or a gaming device.

Retailers need to create in-store environments that are easily shareable on social media. Outdoor Voices’s flagship store exterior is prime for Instagram pics and reminds us of a text message exchange. Once inside, the interior is a clean, curated environment; it’s bright and airy (no filter needed), and the tumblr inspired mood board changes weekly.

Another bonus? The center seating area ticks to important in-store boxes; Boomers can kick up their feet and Gen-Z can Snapchat away.

Community is key

We know that seating areas extend dwell time in store, but for both generations, a communal space is key for retailers and we don’t just mean seating near fitting rooms.

Shelter is a new concept store in Auckland, New Zealand, which, alongside selling contemporary fashion, homeware and lifestyle products, has an indoor cafe and outdoor patio area with relaxed seating.

Hip, young fashion brand Mardou & Dean’s new boutique in Oslo incorporates a cafe, seating area, gallery space and a winter garden in a light setting. In the warmer months, the outdoor seating area becomes a meeting place where shoppers are served coffee while browsing newspapers and lifestyle magazines.

The newly opened YME concept store in Oslo features a cafe annex bookshop on its third floor, stocked with relevant books and magazines from across the globe, while the rooftop terrace offers a lush green getaway. Adding to the shopping experience are exhibitions, product launches, book signings and other events.

These communal retail spaces create a consumer call-to-action to return to the store as the experience steadily changes. In an era where customer poaching is the swipe of smartphone away, in addition to product offer, give your shoppers a reason to return.

Andrea Bell, Think Tank Director, WGSN

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