How to Prepare for Generation Z



Teenagers today belong to what’s been coined Generation Z—­referring to those born after 1995—and the way they live and think is different from the mind-set of their millennial siblings.

There’s good news and bad with people in this generation: They have disposable income (to the tune of $44 billion a year, according to market research company Mintel), they respect good deeds, and they’re very influenced by what their peers are buying.

However, Gen Zers are shopping more online than in brick-and-mortar stores. Couples are tying the knot later, thus delaying purchases of engagement and wedding rings. And having the latest jewelry, watches, or accessories doesn’t appear to be important to teens.

That’s a significant change in attitude, says Kate Turkcan, senior youth insights manager at the Futures Co. As recently as five years ago, products were important to teens as status symbols. But now, “young people aren’t looking for cash, castles, and cars. They’re looking for contentment, control, and community.”

So what’s the best way for retailers to bring teenagers into their customer mix?

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Heart stud earrings in 14k gold with diamonds; $350Mizukimizukijewelry.com
 

Make your merchandise teen-friendly.
“It’s about bringing in modern and young designs—sideways crosses, arrows, and such—and offering them in sterling silver or blackened silver so they are attainable by the youth market,” says Rebecca Hasson, director of marketing at Somers Point, N.J.–based retailer Bernie Robbins Jewelers.

“Teenage girls told us our pieces were too ornate to wear on a daily basis,” says Whitney Ingram, director of social media and marketing for Christian Bling, an online religious jewelry company set up by four teens and their mothers. “They want simple pieces that have one aspect that’s eye-grabbing.”

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Christian Bling’s The Ark necklace; $36; ctbling.com
 

Let them touch the goods.
“It’s important to be able to touch, especially for teenagers, because jewelry isn’t really on their radar,” says Ruth Mellergaard, interior designer for retail environments at GRID/3 International. “The moment someone touches something, you are starting the buying process.”

Hasson makes Bernie Robbins’ displays “not as serious” by using inexpensive items—a wrought-iron bicycle, metal seahorses, candleholders—to highlight or hold the jewelry. “It makes it look fun, and it makes us look fashionable,” she says.

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Lotus bracelets in amethyst, peach quartz, and white jade; $195 each; Nina Nguyen Designs, Boulder, Colo.; 720-459-7664; www.nina-nguyen.com
 

Get on board with cause marketing.
Growing up in a post-9/11 world, living through a recession, and subsisting on a daily diet of bad news about global warming, poverty, and the scarcity of Earth’s resources, Gen Zers are a far more conscientious group than those that came before them.

In fact, according to the Futures Co., 81 percent of teens say businesses that make a sincere effort to be part of the local community are important to them. They notice the retailers who are doing something good.

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14k gold pavé long triangle pyramid necklace with 0.05 ct. t.w. diamonds; $660Zoë Chicco, Los Angeles; 213-489-1226; zoechicco.com
 

Know your technology.
Teenagers belong to a group that has never known a world without screens and connections. Social media is great for marketing to teens—if you know where to go. Facebook may be popular with 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings, but teens are veering toward Instagram and Snapchat.

As with cause marketing, be subtle. Ingram uses it as an inspirational tool; research shows that teens don’t like to feel they’re being sold to and are most likely to share a motivational quote or picture. And remember how teenagers go online—typically not on a computer. So make sure your website works (and looks good!) on phones and tablets.

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Nina Nguyen black leather Bardot wrap bracelet with white drusy in 22k gold-plated sterling; $195
 

Meet them where they are.
To test and publicize a product, Pugh’s Diamond Jewelers in Zanesville, Ohio, places pieces on teens in predetermined social circles. The retailer selects, say, a cheerleader, a scholar, and a musician—students whose connections span a variety of interests and abilities. “They wear the new brand or potential new brand,” says spokesperson Angie Jordan. “We gauge response by increased teen traffic from that area and get feedback on the test market from the teen wearing the product.”
 

A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of JCK magazine.

(Top: Sigrid Olsson/Getty Images)