Z-Tail Report: Gen Z Shopping Habits

December 13, 2019

“As retailers create new strategies to engage shoppers through unique in-store experiences, study reveals 58% of Gen Z prefers a physical shopping experience.”

In-Store Experiences Matter Even More with Gen Z Shoppers

In 2019 Retail Zipline set out to understand the shopping habits of Gen Z, today’s fastest-growing shopping segment, making up 40% of total retail purchases. We surveyed over 1,000 people ages 18-24 across the United States to gain insight into Gen Z’s opinions on traditional versus modern shopping experiences. The results: Gen Z shoppers are conscious of the brands they shop and prefer those that align with their personal values rather than just selling products.

Gen Z’s Purchase Influence? Sales Associates over Social Media

With the majority of Gen Z checking Instagram daily, retailers are leveraging influencers to endorse products more than ever before. Unexpectedly, Retail Zipline’s data shows that when it comes to discovering the latest fashion and beauty trends, a mere 7% look to celebrities for style inspiration whereas more than half (56%) of Gen Z respondents do not simulate trends they see on Instagram in their own style. 

While the majority are disinterested in trends on social media, 69% of Gen Z will take fashion advice from store associates when shopping in stores. At the same time, 41% of respondents claim they’ll engage with a particular sales associate if they like what they are wearing, and when asked what would prompt one to shop repeatedly at one specific brand, 19% of respondents report genuine relationships with specific store associates.

Consumers Care About Employee Treatment

Could a consumer brand’s Glassdoor rating matter more than its product rating? Surprisingly, Gen Z cares about how the companies they buy from treat and respect their own workforce. Connections and community matter to Gen Z shoppers. They prefer to shop in situations where they can chat with their friends, engage with store associates, and feel confident that their purchase decisions are supporting businesses that treat employees well. In fact, 82 percent of respondents claim they’re more likely to buy from a brand that uses ethical business practices. Of those respondents, 66 percent list fair treatment of employees as a key motivator. This exceeds the percentage of respondents who value:

  • Eco-friendly packaging (59%)
  • Ethical sourcing (50%)
  • Donating profits to charity (48%)
  • Vegan products (24%)

A Brand’s Physical Location > the Novelty of a Pop-Up

Many retailers are closing permanent physical stores and opening smaller temporary pop-up experiences to attract the younger generation of shoppers, but Retail Zipline’s data indicates that retailers should actually invest in long-term physical spaces over pop-ups:

  • 58% of Gen Z prefer to shop in stores that have a longstanding presence in a particular location
  • Only 11% choose to shop in stores that exist for a limited time, such as pop-ups

Interactions With Store Associates Outweigh Technology In Stores

While Gen Z is divided on how tech-focused the shopping experience should be, what’s clear is they expect associates to have deep product knowledge, and customer service still matters. Although Gen Z is commonly viewed as the mobile-first generation, the data indicates that mobile payments in stores, such as Venmo or Apple Pay, don’t appeal to 46% of shoppers. Additionally, when asked what interaction one prefers with sales associates, the leading preference is a hands-on approach (65%) as opposed to a hands-off approach where they only assist when service is requested (35%). 

Regardless of Gender, Gen Z Shops the Same 

Previous studies have concluded stark differences between the ways millennial men and women shop. While millennial preferences differ by sex, Retail Zipline’s study found that for Gen Z, the leading motivator for women and men to shop from specific brands is aligned: authenticity. 

When asked which physical displays impact one’s decision to shop from a particular brand, the study shows both males and females feel similarly about engaging with brands using authentic marketing that centers around “real” people:

  • 60% of women and 64% of men are more likely to shop from brands with a commitment to keep photos minimally photoshopped 
  • 41% of women and 25% of men prefer brands that use plus-sized models
  • 48% of women and 29% of men prefer brands that showcase multi-racial models
  • Just 14% of women and 18% of men are influenced by celebrity endorsements 

While conventional wisdom is that preferential differences exist by sex, the study reveals these differences are shrinking and gender lines blurring — Gen Z values authentic brands that support people, regardless of their appearance, gender or any other attribute.


Retail Zipline surveyed 1,007 men and women via the online platform SurveyMonkey to better understand Gen Z’s shopping preference. Those surveyed were based in the United States and were between the ages of 18-24. This survey was administered from October 21, 2019 – October 24, 2019.

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