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Generation Z never did what marketers told them to. This is especially true when it comes to where they spend their hard-earned cash during a global economic meltdown. Gen Z consumers are still the largest consumer demographic, falling between the ages of 7 and 22 and controlling 143 billion in spending power pre coronavirus. However, the members of Gen Z that are still making money during the pandemic are bifurcated into those that have been consistently spending online, and those that are holding off in hopes of eventually spending what they’ve earned at brick-and-mortar stores.

What We Can Learn from Gen Z Spending

Gen Z has never shopped like their predecessors and apparel retailers are going to need a new angle to tap into this elusive consumer base. Once members of Gen Z reach college age, their spending on electronics actually eclipses their apparel spend. A new must-have iPhone comes out every year and no member of Gen Z wants to be seen with an out-of-date laptop.

If Gen Z consumers are never willing to spend more on apparel than they do when they are in high school and they’ll continue to be more hesitant than ever to spend money on “nonessential purchases,” what can apparel and accessory retailers do to entice them to fork over their hard-earned cash?

So, here’s the question: If Gen Z college students are already abandoning apparel shopping in favor of more intellectually stimulating fiscal pursuits, what does this mean for their purchasing behavior as they age in a post-pandemic world? Older consumers, as a whole, already spend significantly less on clothing than young customers. We should ask post-coronavirus Gen Z the same question as Jack Nicholson’s 1997 box office hit: “What if this is as good as it gets?”

If Gen Z consumers are never willing to spend more on apparel than they do when they are in high school and they’ll continue to be more hesitant than ever to spend money on “nonessential purchases,” what can apparel and accessory retailers do to entice them to fork over their hard-earned cash?

Lessons from the Buzziest Footwear Brands

The three most-mentioned brands among Gen Z consumers are Vans, Adidas, and Nike––all of which are footwear brands that have branched out into activewear and accessories. These brands have a lot to teach us about tapping into Gen Z’s purchasing power. Just take a look at how Vans has mastered the fine art of event-based marketing pre-pandemic, with a skatepark tour, a BMX pro cup, and Vans Off The Wall music/skate events––talk about a brand that’s conquered the challenge of offering individuality at scale.

Young consumers may be more digital-first when searching for fashion inspiration than ever, but that will soon include witnessing digital footage from live-stream events. Footwear brands are strategic in creating video content to promote limited-edition product drops, a trend which streetwear brands like Supreme and Champion are successfully replicating. Fashion houses are also using sneaker/streetwear company brand power to attract next-gen consumers through partnerships with streetwear brands.

Forbes reports, “Arguably the most infamous collaboration, and one that set the tone for subsequent partnerships, was the Supreme and Louis Vuitton collection. Shown at Paris Fashion week, the ultimate barometer of high fashion’s approval, this was followed by a wave of streetwear collaborations with more traditional retailers.”

Since then, retailers and fashion houses have been clinging to streetwear’s star power for dear life. Fashion is more casual then ever right now as most customers are sheltered and working from home, glued to their phones. Collaborating with streetwear designers helped luxury brands like Burberry, Balenciaga, and Montcler tap into the Gen Z demographic––giving them the “cool factor” with young, brand-wary consumers who may not normally be interested in traditional luxury apparel. But it’s not just luxury brands that can get their street cred re-upped through partnering with skatewear brands. Traditional mid-market brands like Ralph Lauren are also dipping their toes (deep) into the streetwear pond. And active wear brands are getting their star power straight from the source, with Adidas harvesting the street cred of Olympic athletes such as David Beckham for its new “Ready” performance collection.

For Gen Z, the cool factor is earned, not a marketing ploy. They need a reason to choose to spend with a fashion brand over more pragmatic purchasing… and retailers need to give it to them.

Source Apparel That’s as Innovative as New Technologies

Generation Z may be tech-savvy, but they use technology to seek the tangible connections and intimacy that they are missing in traditional in-person interactions. The role of technology is to provide that human touch at scale. Mobile will soon eclipse desktop as Gen Z’s preferred shopping channel. During coronavirus, mobile phones were the most popular resource Gen Z consumers have had to cultivate the peer connections they so crave. As such, retailers need to creatively use social media functions such as livestream video, gaming, and free content downloads to continue engaging their next-gen community (and driving them to purchase) at scale.

The challenge for retailers targeting Gen Z will be to source and manufacture apparel that is as exciting as the introduction of new technologies. While Gen Z consumers say that their primary motivator is price, their actual shopping habits reflect the fact that “shared values” are equally, if not more important. How brands have responded to store closures––particularly how they treat their frontline employees, who Gen Z consumers identify with––will determine how they are viewed by next-gen shoppers once the chaos eventually subsides.

And ready to feel old? Gen Z consumers are already nostalgic for simpler times. Gucci’s Year of the Mouse collaboration with Disney capitalized on this nostalgia through a limited edition apparel line with an astrological bent. In fact, many retailers­­––both luxury and midmarket––are drawing on the excitement of astrology and Chinese New Year to add a little something extra to their apparel offerings.

The most successful retailers will be those that are able to imbue mainstream apparel shopping with the excitement and community engagement of new technology. Gen Z is consuming more video content than ever before. In a recent survey by Brainly, 60 percent of Gen Z reported that they are watching more online videos than before the pandemic. Retailers can draw on nostalgia, spirituality, streetwear, and/or live-streaming video content to entertain Gen Z consumers as they wait for their lives to resume. But they will need to continue to engage Gen Z consumers through video content to maintain their “cool factor” to remain consistent, and to ensure they’re one of the first stores young customers visit when stores regain their popularity.