Retail Design For Gen Z

Aug 1, 2019

Generation Z is fascinating—a hybrid generation with their phones in hand and their eyes on the horizon. They’re a generation fully immersed in the digital world who wants to make a lasting impact on the physical world. Many retailers feel intimidated when they consider targeting marketing efforts at Gen Z. Some retailers fear that any approach they take will feel dated or patronizing. Others worry that since the digital space changes so quickly, any attempt to stay relevant is doomed. Then, there’s always the fear of making a cultural or social gaffe that can sink a brand’s reputation with a younger generation.

Misreading Generation Z

In part, these fears are fueled by a misunderstanding of some of the shared values and concerns of Gen Z. Although it’s true that younger customers aren’t afraid to confront brands they find hypocritical or out of touch, they’re incredibly loyal to brands they connect with. They’re also great connectors and promoters of products that they deem relevant. A vast network of social media influencers partner with retailers to help spread the word about new products, initiatives, or innovations.

The Future of Brick and Mortar Stores

As the digital space opens up, many retailers are left wondering what the future looks like for brick and mortar stores. In reality, the research on this is mixed. On the one hand, it’s true that, according to Fung Global Retail and Technology, retail store closings increased by 182% in 2017. However, this bleak statistic doesn’t reveal the whole story. Instead, it likely reveals that older, staid brands without a digital presence are finding it hard to compete in a new retail environment.

From Instagram to Infrastructure

Although there are more total retail closings than openings, stores that have built massive brand relationships with younger customers are entering the retail space at incredibly rapid speeds. Retailers like Warby Parker, Casper, Allbirds, Glossier, BaubleBar, Fabletics, and Bonobos have all opened a bevy of physical stores and plan to add more than 800 more stores in the next 5 years. It’s also worth noting that Amazon valued physical retail space enough to purchase the infrastructure of Whole Foods. That’s a huge vote of confidence for brick and mortar stores.

Transforming a Traditional Retail Experience

All these examples are brands that were born online and are transitioning into physical spaces. In other words, vibrant and relevant brands are moving into a disrupted retail space. This makes it even more important for older retailers to transform their in-store experiences to appeal to a younger generation. Most retailers erroneously believe that Generation Z prefers to purchase products online. That’s not the case. Around 67 percent of Gen Z shoppers prefer shopping in-store to shopping online, according to IBM’s “Uniquely Generation Z” study. This holds true for Millennials as well. 50 percent of this generation chooses to shop in a store when making purchases, according to SmarterHQ.

Discovering Instead of Displaying

These statistics mean that just over half of younger customers crave a physical experience with the product they’re purchasing. Many pursue an online/physical store hybrid purchasing process. For some purchases, a physical store provides the opportunity to explore the product one-on-one. Yet Gen Z makes physical purchases with their phones literally in hand, looking for sale prices or researching comparable products. One way retailers can cater to their customers is by providing clear visuals with side-by-side comparisons of competing products. Gen Z likes to be in charge of the purchasing process by gaining as much information about products as they can. When retailers provide that information for them, they win bonus points for transparency and clarity—two values that younger customers champion.

Understanding Generation Z

For the generation born after 1995, there are a few shared concerns and values that retailers need to be aware of as they pivot marketing to a new customer base. Integrating these concepts into a marketing strategy will help refresh and modernize retail brands, allowing them to remain connected to a new base of customers. We’ve collected these values into a quickstart guide for updating the in-store retail experience so that it resonates with a new generation. Here are five guidelines for retailers reaching out to Gen Z.

1. Think Visual

Gen Z grew up in a world of streaming video and scrolling social feeds. To attract attention and keep their interest, in-store retailers must keep window displays and physical spaces updated. The days of updating displays seasonally are over. Weekly or monthly displays let a retailer keep pace with how quickly trends change online. Big, bold graphics are a great way to advertise the changes present inside the store.

2. Seek Authenticity Over Curation

Gen Z saw firsthand the disconnect between staged Instagram photos and real life. They prefer the immediacy and approachability of Snapchat. Rather than curating a visual archive, they triumph messy experience. Drop the Photoshop approach and play up pixelation, being candid, and making small mistakes. Gen Z doesn’t read casual as lazy. Instead, it feels warm and approachable.

3. Emphasize Differences

Gen Z puts great emphasis on highlighting and celebrating difference. The goal for this group is differentiation, not assimilation. Although it takes courage and vulnerability, brands should look for stories of unique customers and employees they can showcase. Telling these stories creates an opportunity for retailers to share how they value and celebrate the wide variety of human experience. Large window graphics of real customers or real employees will go far with Gen Z customers. Younger customers want to see themselves represented in a brand’s visuals. Using visuals of women, people of color, people with disabilities, and individuals of all shapes and sizes lets young customers know that their individuality is valued.

4. Offer an Experience, Not a Showroom

Traditional retail displays are picture perfect. Clothes are arranged beautifully, and furniture looks pristine and unapproachable. Gen Z wants to play with what they purchase, so a traditional approach can feel too formal. Invest in graphics that encourage customers to get up close and personal. The opportunity to try products, even for extended periods of time, is a successful retail strategy that appeals to younger people. Focus on offering experiences alongside product launches. New signage can signal rotating exhibits, games, opportunities, or experiences in a retail space. Customers who know they’re likely to experience something new and interactive are more likely to make repeat visits to a store.

5. Put Values Front and Center

Young Americans think big about the impact they can make in the world at large. In recent years, they’ve taken real steps to address systemic issues, such as school safety, environmental concerns, energy usage, and economic equity. They understand the power and influence companies have on policy and cultural norms. This understanding makes them interested in partnering with brands who share their values and want to make a difference. In brick and mortar retailing, don’t be afraid to showcase the causes you’re supporting through large in-store graphics. Gen Z wants their purchases to make a difference. Let them know that shopping with you will support their larger beliefs and concerns.

Create a Compelling Retail Space

Our talented team can help you refresh your retail presence to appeal to shoppers of all ages and backgrounds. If you’re looking to update your retail graphics, we can help you send a clear message with updated exterior signs, gorgeous rotating window graphics, floor graphics, or wall graphics. With years of retail experience, we can create a suite of signage that leaves a current and relevant impression. Contact us today for an initial consultation. We’ll provide feedback and creative solutions through every step of the process.

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