Here’s how to create a retail environment that prioritizes people and meaningful experiences for a demographic with serious purchasing power.

While Gen Z’s preference for online shopping steals most of the headlines, what this influential consumer demographic say they really want is more personalized and in-person retail interactions. The most recent research on Gen Z, a group who makes up nearly 28% of the population, indicates they prefer meaningful interactions with store associates and will seek out brands whose associates have deep knowledge.

The Z-Tail Report documents the specific ways that in-store experiences matter to the group that is currently responsible for about 40% of total retail purchases. This figure is even higher when factoring in influence over their parent’s spending. According to the study:

Positive interactions with employees matter more than in-store technology

If Gen Z consumers want basic info about a product, they can find it online. When they go to a store, they expect associates to have deep product knowledge, and customer service makes a difference in where they ultimately choose to spend.

When it comes to interacting with technology versus people, it’s not an either-or situation. Gen Z is commonly viewed as the mobile-first generation, however, in-store tech perks like mobile payments, don’t appeal to 46% of shoppers. When asked about what interaction they do prefer, the leading preference is a hands-on approach with sales associates (65%) as opposed to a hands-off approach where an associate will only assist when service is requested (35%).

Sales associates carry more influence over purchasing decision versus social media

It’s the age of Instagram influencers, but savvy Gen Z shoppers looking for fashion advice aren’t as influenced by celebrities or filtered images as brands expect, given the heavy amount of social media spend. The survey found that 69% of Gen Z will take fashion advice from store associates, and 41% of respondents report they will engage with a sales associate if they like what they are wearing.

Employee treatment is a top concern with Gen Z consumers

It’s not just how Gen Z interacts with employees that matter, but this demographic is also concerned about how brands interact with their own employees. The survey found that 82% of respondents claim they’re more likely to buy from a brand that uses ethical business practices. Of those respondents, 66% list the fair treatment of employees as a key motivator.

Walking into a store, consumers can quickly make a judgement about which brands value employees. They take note if the store is properly staffed, or alternatively, notice when busy employees are hurried or tasked with doing too much. Additionally, consumers can see which brands have invested in employee training.

It’s interesting to note that Engageware research about in-store shopping preferences found similar results among Gen Z shoppers, and to a slightly lesser extent, saw similar habits across all age groups. Based on the research as well as deep insights from working with the world’s largest retail brands, here’s how to combine technology and in-person interactions to create better omnichannel experiences that address Gen Z’s retail wish list.

  • Create a frictionless omnichannel experience, providing the digital-savvy generation with the same level of personalization online and in-person. Give associates the tools to understand customer preferences and be able to welcome customers into the store with a greater level of attention to detail.
  • Gain deeper visibility into who is walking in (and sometimes out of) your store. After analysis, many brands find that stores appear busy, but customers who don’t receive assistance or have questions go answered leave the store without making a purchase.
  • Optimize staffing. That includes putting enough resources on the floor to match real-time foot traffic and having the right staffing mix in terms of specialty knowledge or skillset.
  • Make it easy for customers to connect on their terms. Offering pre-scheduled online appointments or kiosks with the option for customers to put their name on list (and see real-time wait information) let’s the always-connected Gen Z take control of the process while giving your brand important information that to help associates further personalize service.

The consequences for missing the mark when it comes to meaningful, in-store experiences may be deep and long-lasting. Gen Z represents the fastest growing shopping segment and they’ve made it clear they will choose where to spend their money based on more than just merchandise.

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