Valuing Diversity, Gen Z Searches for Tailor-Made Holiday Experiences

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This post is the latest in our “Holiday Blitz” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of November, including topics such as holiday shopping behavior, year-over-year trend analysis, and retail strategies. See the rest of the series here

Shared values help define generations. They also serve as guideposts for marketers looking to capture the attention of shoppers in certain groups. As we get closer to the prime month for holiday spending, retailers and brands are looking at how they can appeal most strongly to shoppers in the millennial and Gen Z demographics.

In a recent survey of 2,300 adults, Business Insider and Morning Consult found that members of Gen Z plan to spend more on themselves this holiday shopping season than any other generation. Nearly a quarter of Gen Z respondents said they plan to splurge the most on themselves this year, compared to 5.9% of millennials and 5.1% of boomers.

In a separate survey, 48% of Gen Z and millennials said they are most influenced by friends and family when making holiday purchases. Just 18% said they are most influenced by online ads.

Those findings echo the sentiment expressed by Shahla Hebets, founder and CEO of the digital marketing firm Think Media Consulting. In working with global lifestyle brands and closely watching changes in consumer culture over the past decade, Hebets has come to find that one of the core values for millennials and Gen Z shoppers is diversity.

Gen Z shoppers, in particular, have more friends with different races, gender identities, and sexualities than previous generations. They are more likely to be influenced by social media stars, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, than traditional Hollywood celebrities. As a result, members of this generation value diversity more than other generations, and that value influences their purchasing decisions year-around.

“If you look at baby boomers from this lens, they’re far more homogenous. Millennials and Gen Z are the antithesis [of] homogeneity,” Hebets says. “Brands need to understand that millennials and Gen Z don’t want to be put in the traditional box with respect to marketing or otherwise. They want brands to embrace and recognize their diversity.”

To capture the attention of millennial and Gen Z shoppers, Hebets says brands should consider offering limited edition merchandise, unique DIY personal care items, such as bath salts, scrubs, and body oils, and nostalgia items that reflect their diversity, as well as their individuality.

“These generations long for custom experiences that feel tailor-made just for them. They don’t care for mass promotions or the classic holiday gimmicks. They want a one-on-one experience with the brand,” Hebets says.

Brands might also want to try experiential marketing and integrating offline and online channels at certain gatherings. For example, retailers can host exclusive events that bring local influencers, artists, or musicians together with customers in a curated shopping experience. These events may be invite-only to promote exclusivity and provide allure as well as a distinctly personalized experience.

“Savvy brands understand their customers enough to create events that speak to their specific interests, aspirations, and motivations instead of offering a one-size-fits-all approach,” she says.

Surveys have shown that younger generations are “hybrid shoppers,” equally comfortable shopping online and offline. If brands want to compete with e-commerce giants like Amazon, they need to think creatively about how they can use experiential marketing and integrated online/offline environments to their advantage. This is not just true during the holidays but throughout the year.

Brands that focus exclusively on discounts to lure in holiday shoppers are missing the mark with Gen Z and millennials. Hebets says customers in these generations have a different mindset. They’re frequently on the hunt for the perfect gift, as opposed to the cheapest gift or the easiest gift. When retailers focus exclusively on price, that lends itself to a disconnect with customers.

“Brands tend to get a little obsessed with the holidays and the need to drive significant return. They concentrate on securing transactions, often through incentives,” Hebets says. “In their quest to get as much volume and revenue in the door as possible, they forget the uniqueness of their audiences and what truly drives their purchasing behaviors during the holiday season.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.