What Happens When Social Networking Comes to Life?

DSCN2556Gen Zs Perform Social Media Live at the Mall

Marketers agree that it’s critical to understand how Gen Zs think and shop in their digital world so we can reach them effectively.   24 million of the world’s Gen Zs are expected to have very strong buying power online and offline.

But if you’re a marketer over 30 like me, understanding and keeping up with the way Gen Zs shop is a challenge.  As “Digital Natives”, their shopping behavior is intense because they whip around the internet at lightening speed, yet impressive because they know how to optimize their time and money.  Teens shop online very differently than the way they shop at a mall and the differences are only going to broaden as spending and technology grows.


What would it look like if a Gen Z applied their online shopping / social networking behavior to the offline shopping experience?  To better understand a Gen Z’s behavioral and social approach to shopping, I came up with an analogy that puts online behavior in perspective, especially for a Gen X marketer.

– – It’s Saturday afternoon and after four hours of texting and gaming, a few 16 year olds are slugging down Red Bulls to be 100% charged for their trip to the mall.  Their parents drop them off without any phones or technology.  As upper-income Gen Zs, they are each given $100 to buy what they want and 1 hour to spend it.

Within minutes of arriving, each one takes off independently in his or her own direction so no shopping time is wasted (Gen Zs are very impatient).   They run around the mall like a mouse sniffing cheese, until they find the store that carries a favorite brand such as Nike, Aeropostale, North Face or Lululemon.

Let’s look at Tyler’s shopping behavior:  Tyler is an extroverted athlete needing constant praise and not used to doing much himself (Helicopter Mom). He wants athletic shorts for his expanding waste from too much Xbox, so he heads to the Nike store.

Before entering, he rallies a group of mall shoppers and asks a question:  “What do you think of wearing Nike shorts to HS?” Some responses are brutal and as a result, Tyler gets into a fistfight with another teen who called him a “lazy couch potato” (ask.fm).

Tyler makes it into the crowded store and checks out every shopper to see what he or she is wearing. For athletic wear he likes, he gives him or her a high five and his basketball hand turns raw because there are so many cool outfits (Instagram). He sees a lot of mannequins and wonders if Nike delivered his Avatar here.

Needing product reviews, he interviews total strangers about the fit of their items, what they paid, and how many stars they’d give it (Amazon). Never needing to remember his past purchases, Tyler asks a sales clerk to “pull my profile” but the clerk says it’s not in the “database”. Tyler asks, “What’s a database? You should know my size, age, sports and last purchases!”

The sales clerk directs Tyler to 6 pairs of shorts where Tyler oddly displays them on the floor, and has the clerk recite a detailed description of each pair (Pinterest). He tries each pair on and gets another shopper to take his pictures with a Polaroid. He posts his photos on the wall to tell everyone he’s poppin’ tags at Nike and has photos taken with all the Nike sales clerks (Facebook).

He buys three pairs (on sale because Gen Zs are economical), and after he walks out, shouts out to the entire mall, “Hey everyone I just bought these at Nike” and counts at least 200 who heard him, and hopes some will follow him for his cool gear (Twitter). He starts shooting hoops in 6 second intervals as if he were doing a short tv commercial, hoping his girlfriend will see (Vine).

Their one hour is up so the group runs around the mall to find each other and find that really annoying.  They are out of breadth from running (many Gen Zs are overweight), so they have a liquid lunch at Robex and chat.  Comparing stories, most agree that it’s hard work to perform the online experience in an offline setting and now they really appreciate the online experience.

When we apply digital experiences to the offline world, the differences are very enlightening.  Marketers, think through the digital motions of Gen Z and how that applies to their behavior, online and offline.  You’ll need to give them the online tools offline, and the offline tools online. 


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