Moe Krimat, Strategic Creative Director of Seen Displays, a creative insight-led retail design and production agency, looks at how brands can really listen to Gen Z and Gen Alpha to not just survive but thrive in this ever-changing retail landscape.

The staggering fact is the digitally-savvy Generation Z (15-25 year olds) will total 32% of the world’s population by the end of this year. We know that they strive for individualism and want to celebrate their nuances. They grew up with social media – the good, the bad and the ugly – and so champion both the empowering and self-expressive benefits of it as well as being acutely aware of the possible effect on their mental health. They are tech-savvy, they are not afraid to voice opinions through action, they forcibly challenge out-dated social constructs and they are taking the environmental crises into their own hands. As we all battle through the effects of Covid-19 and face a dominant digital world, Gen Z and Gen Alpha are already well in their stride when it comes to embracing the virtual world.

“I think (Generation Z) are quite optimistic and if not optimistic then hopeful. I feel like we’re the sort of generation that may see all the bad stuff happening, but actually go out and try to stop it” says 16-year-old Jada Wallace-Mitchell, part of the GenZ collective I met and interviewed.

So, what about Gen Alpha? With the oldest being born in 2010, when “app” was the word of the year and the youngest not born until 2025, they are raised by millennial parents to what we’re already calling “screenagers”. Beyond their expectations of tech and digital as standard, their seeking of instant gratification (and this already being matched with symptoms of potential loneliness) it makes sense that they are demanding more inclusive, connected and ethical environments from brands.

Essentially, we can no longer call these groups “future consumers” or “the next generation”, they are literally lining our streets and filling our feeds, demanding we collectively get on board to support them build the future they believe in, and they are some of our main target audience when it comes to retail.

If we have learnt anything over the past few years it would certainly be that there is still an outdated understanding of diversity in our industry and our efforts to reverse the effects of climate change are already too little too late. So, are we actually speaking to these generations properly and addressing their concerns? Probably not really, or at least not enough. Through our insights and research, speaking to our specially formed group Collective of Gen Z and Gen Alpha individuals, we have identified actions we can take to future proof retail design and activations.

Firstly, we need to understand that non-authentic collaborations or attempts to satisfy shallow or out of date statistics about your audience will be painstakingly transparent. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are not stupid, infact they are the definition of “woke”. Dom Borghino, a 21 year old Law student told me “if a brand is doing something deliberately to be provocative, if they have a history with doing something like cultural appropriation and they’ve been called out for it before and they don’t change their behaviour time and time again, that’s when  I personally don’t want anything more to do with a brand or a company”. These days, sitting on the fence says more about your brand values than taking action. CEOs and board rooms so out of touch with younger consumers need to allow the brand representatives and creative agencies on the ground to make those brave decisions, make statements and take action to align with the activism qualities of the consumer. During COVID we have seen some brands getting this very right – with the likes of Nike and Converse encouraging at home creativity and wellness, providing tools and systems to make it possible and really championing and listening to their consumers and what they need and feel during the hardest time they may face.

Secondly, we need to approach the sustainability subject as a responsibility which we are genuinely advancing and question and challenge the choices of materiality in every detail and explore better life-cycle systems of your physical spaces. We’re running out of excuses to avoid the subject in spite of the potential “greenwashing” backlash and change in focus due to the pandemic, but genuine intent and action, regardless how small, could be the much-needed catalyst to spark the progress your younger audience dearly value. It’s a huge focus for us with every project and we are constantly refreshing our sustainable materials library and brainstorming ways to be more circular in our design approach whether it’s part of the brief or not. It’s up to agencies like us to show that being sustainable doesn’t have to be brown but it can be colourful, exciting, unique and ethical all at once!

Lastly, beyond the environmental, social and political changes Gen Z and Gen Alpha are driving, they are recognising that while they hold a sense of local pride, they are increasingly pushing the boundaries on what makes their identity special and unique to them. Zuhela Osh, a 24-year-old skater and designer says, “In this world where every society is accessible to us – I think it’s pushed people into accepting their own unique cultures, and their own heritage more”. As “personalisation” and “customisation” services continue to pop-up at almost every retail site these days, are we truly supporting this generation in their search for new ways of self-expression, collectivism and pride? The impending roll-out of 5G should enable us to integrate digital experiences in-store with a human-centric customer journey that provides your audience with individual experiences to co-create and experiment seamlessly with their own digital consumption habits.

There are already some examples of brands investing in research to design and reinvent brand environments with the same integrity and importance placed on values and purpose as their consumers. For example, before Covid-19 hit, Apple collaborated with Appear Here to encourage the use of pop-up sites to create platforms for communities with shared interests in activism. Also, last year at the age of just 25, Becki Ockell co-founded Paynter, an ethically sourced and durable fashion label. She believes that “We physically couldn’t be closer to our clothes. But right now, we’re so disconnected with our wardrobe. We have no idea where the majority of our clothes have come from, where they were made, by who, with what materials, in what conditions, how they were designed, how to look after them and even what to do with them once their time is up”. Batch producing only three times a year and sharing their production journey with their followers, their jackets sell out within minutes, demonstrating the value customers are placing in a brand’s transparency and the more meaningful relationships they’re seeking with their purchases.

Leading an insight-led agency we know that secondary research can only get you so far in understanding our brand partner’s audience. Regularly speaking to this generation is what gives us the authentic, informative and empathic vein of insight that runs through our strategies, creative and production. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are asking us to listen, but not just listen, actually act like them, and physically change our approach and we couldn’t be happier about that or more on board. Bring it on!


Moe Krimat, Strategic Creative Director, Seen Displays

 

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