Over the last decade, the generation retailers and media outlets alike have been fixated on is millennials. However, there’s a new kid on the block. Digital natives, socially conscious, and most importantly for businesses, a growing market of young consumers, Gen Z refers to those born between 1996 and 2015.
The Center for Generational Kinetics has published the second installment of a large-scale study, commissioned by WP Engine, looking at the digital habits of 14 to 21 year olds, shedding light on how this generation views the world, both online and offline.
By surveying a total of 1,008 Western European respondents ages 14-59, the research organisation gained an insight into trends that may have a profound effect on all future generations. Here’s what they found out:
Gen Z is the first generation to have grown up with widespread internet access and as a result, their daily lives on and offline are often interwoven. While they may still shop in physical stores, they use their phones to compare prices, read reviews or seek out advice while doing so.
The report found that 61% of Gen Z can’t go more than five hours without internet access before becoming uncomfortable, and 32% can’t go for more than an hour. Compared with 13% of Baby Boomers, who can go without internet access for a week or more.
Their relationship with the internet was also found to be very different from older generations, with baby boomers having more of a practical relationship with technology, and 91% associating the internet with sending emails, and 77% with search tools.
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Gen Z’s prime reason for accessing the internet on the other hand it entertainment, associating it with social media, entertainment and content websites, and already spending nearly twice as much time on social media as watching TV. This is reflected in how Gen Z interacts with brands online, with 29% preferring to be entertained rather than informed when interacting with a company’s online content.
The study also found that the way they access the internet differs from other generations, with Gen Z being far more open to accessing the internet with their voice using tools such as Siri or Alexa.
Personalisation and privacy
Despite a significant increase in public awareness of online privacy over recent years, the study found that a significant proportion of the age group expect a highly personalised service, with 40% saying they would actively stop visiting a website if it didn’t anticipate what they needed, liked or wanted.
In fact, 38% of Gen Z said they would be willing to provide their personal data if it means they’ll receive a more personalised digital experience over an anonymous one.
This suggests that even if privacy is a concern, this is trumped by convenience, and a willingness to exchange personal data for a more personalised experience online.
Reaching Gen Z
But how can businesses utilise this information to connect with the generation now entering the world of work? Gen Z makes up 20% of Europeans who are planning to start a new business in the coming years, and as a result businesses must adapt their business models to attract a new generation.
Firstly a strong online presence is essential, with 61% of these of these digital natives planning to launch that business online first. With 61 million young people born due to enter the US workforce over the next few years, this may cause a shift in the number of digital-only businesses.
Gen Z has the highest aspiration for entrepreneurship of any generation. It’s also the first generation to express an interest in building a tech business over retail, the first choice of all other generations surveyed, showing a different set of priorities than older colleagues and reflecting the recent boom in tech-focused roles.
The study revealed that experimenting with new technologies such as voice, personalisation, AI and machine learning is key, and must be a priority for any company wanting to reach this particular group which sees working with cutting-edge technology as central to their future careers. This suggests that rather than fearing new technology such as AI, the younger age group is willing to embrace it.
The ethics of a company is also a deciding factor for Gen Z. Holding companies accountable is important for this group, with 65% of this generation saying that they are more likely to buy from a business that is involved with helping to social causes, while 30% have stopped buying from a company that contributes to something they disagreed with.
Another thing that emerged was an increased awareness that an individual’s online presence can have a knock-on effect on other aspects of daily life. 70% of Gen Z worry that their online actions, such as social media posts, will affect job offers.
One thing that is clear is that employers must re-think their attitudes to technology in order to attract the next generation of workers. In order to succeed at this, businesses will need to start “embracing new technologies, experimenting with new forms of communication, and understanding the nuances of how Gen Z is blending analogue and digital”.