Agencies Brand Strategy Ecommerce

How will gen Z approach Christmas shopping? I surveyed my son to find out

By Debbie Ellison | Global Chief Digital Officer



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November 28, 2022 | 7 min read

Following up on research that identified a ‘paradox’ in gen Z shopping behavior, VMLY&R Commerce’s Debbie Ellison conducts another study, with a slightly smaller sample size: a conversation with her 17-year-old son.

A shopping arcade at Christmas

How will gen Z approach holiday season shopping this year? Debbie Ellison asked her son to find out. / Heidi Fin via Unsplash

Earlier this year, I led a global study into gen Z, along with Livity, to shed light on the shape and power of the future shopper. We surveyed 2,550 people from gen Z in five cities worldwide: Manchester, Houston, Lagos, Mumbai and Shenzhen.

With Christmas on the doorstep, I wondered how gen Z values might impact their shopping behavior during the festive season. To find out, I took learnings from our global survey and overlaid them with results from a completely unscientific (but fascinating) sample of one: my 17-year-old son, Devon.

Here’s what I discovered across five Ps (purchase, price, place, product and promotion).

1. Purchase: whether gen Z ‘scrooge’ or ‘splurge’ depends on personal circumstance

As the cost-of-living crisis bites, for gen Z it’s less about the macroeconomy and more about the personal microeconomy. Do they have cash to spare or not? Where they do, the global study shows that they’re inclined to spend.

For Devon, this rang true; the sense of being able to give generously feels empowering. “I’ll probably end up spending more, because I have more money at the moment… I recently got my first job… and I want to treat my family.” (This researcher, personally, can’t wait).

2. Price: ‘value’ will beat ‘values’ for gen Z

Our research showed that gen Z wants to do the right thing, but when it comes to the crunch, ‘value’ components like ‘quality, convenience and value for money’ win out over ‘values’ like ‘caring for the environment, gender representation, racial equity and workers’ rights’.

This was broadly consistent with Devon’s views. “It’s price, then convenience and quality, though company values do play a part. If a brand says they’re carbon neutral, I’ll happily pay a little bit more. But if it's known that a company is really bad to the environment, or has bad ethical issues, I won’t shop there.”

3. Place: sites are the new stores over Christmas

Language is revealing. When I asked Devon how he would holiday shop, he didn’t first mention “stores” or “the shops”– he automatically said “sites”; “because it’s a hassle going out and then carrying a lot of bags. It’s also easier to get the cheapest price”.

That default behavior resonates with our global research. Yes, bricks and mortar have their place –but for a different shopping mission, which is as much about browsing as buying.

“It’s more social. I’ll go out with my friends to central London, and we’ll have food out and make a day of it,” Devon said. “I like places like Nike Town where there’s a DJ playing music which keeps you upbeat but it’s also relaxing. The only time I might go to a shop at Christmas is to take my little cousins to Hamleys to pick out toys, ‘cause it’s an amazing experience.”

4. Product: fashion is Number One on the shopping list

From fast fashion to thrifting and vintage finds, making a personal style statement is critical to gen Z. Like many of his generation, Devon would love to see branded clothing under the tree with his name on it. It’s the number one most-wanted gift for gen Z, closely followed by “money/gift cards”.

Beauty is high on the list too. Devon feels “like fragrances are on-trend this year, specifically sample packs with 5 to 10 perfumes and a voucher for a full-size bottle.” (Researcher/me: my go-to is Chanel Chance. Just saying!)

5. Promotion: social will be the biggest influence on Christmas shopping behavior

Our global research showed that brands are made or destroyed on social media.

It’s what we dubbed ‘crush culture’: if a product or brand is trending, gen Z pile on in a ‘crush’. As one survey respondent said: “If you’re able to convince us you’re the best, we’re like ‘alright everyone, we’ll sell ‘em out right now!’ But a whiff of controversy, and brand fortunes can be obliterated in a second.

“I get my inspiration on social, definitely”, Devon told me. “I’ll also check for reviews.” But interestingly, gen Z are unlikely to actively research whether a brand aligns to their values. “I wouldn’t ever Google if a brand is environmentally-friendly or has ethical concerns.” They pick this information up from friends or influencers.

With so many under financial pressure, I wanted to end our “interview” looking at charity support during Christmas. I learned (and I love) that Devon would rather help out than fork out. “Instead of giving £10 to charity, I’d prefer to just buy a homeless person food or a hot drink, because that way I see my money making an impact. It’s less transactional.”

Our global study concurred: gen Z have their hearts in the right place.

As their financial capacity grows, so will their ability to buy on “values” as well as “value”. That shift could see gen Z making a huge impact, not just as shoppers but as citizens too. Will gen Z become the ‘generous generation’ in future festive seasons? One can only hope.

Agencies Brand Strategy Ecommerce

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