Everything You Need to Know About Generation Z

Move over, millennials. Step aside, Gen X. Bye-bye, baby boomers. There’s a new kid (with money) on the block, and as she gets older, she’s going to become more important to retailers.

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 mindset of their millennial siblings. (Some say the first members of Gen Z were born as early as 1995 and as late as 2001.) 

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. They probably won’t get married anytime soon because we’re all tying the knot later, thus delaying purchases of engagement and wedding rings. And according to The Futures Co.’s TRU Youth Monitor Report: Consumers & Commerce 2014, having the latest jewelry, watches, or accessories isn’t important to 67 percent of teens.

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

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.”

Gen Z is the biggest segment of the U.S. population; with 361,000 babies born daily, it’s the only one that’s growing. So what’s the best way for retailers to bring teenagers into their customer mix?

Make Your Merchandise Teen-Friendly

Five-store Somers Point, N.J.–based retailer Bernie Robbins Jewelers created a whole collection that’s young, hip, and inexpensive (most pieces come in under $200), yet still made with fine components: pendants by Zoë Chicco with trendy shapes and elements, wrap bracelets and beaded bracelets by Nina Nguyen, and funky earrings by Mizuki.

“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.

Photo booth high jinks at Jingle Ball, sponsored by Bernie Robbins

Pugh’s Diamond Jewelers in Zanesville, Ohio, has a special Silver Boutique area that features Alex and Ani, Pandora, and Kameleon. “The displays are much more fun, featuring trending color combinations, layering ideas, and signage with younger and real people,” says spokeswoman Angie Jordan.

Christian Bling, an online religious jewelry company set up by four teens and their mothers, markets itself to—and engages with—the Gen Z crowd.

“Teenage girls told us our pieces were too ornate to wear on a daily basis,” says director of social media and marketing Whitney Ingram. “They want simple pieces that have one aspect that’s eye-grabbing. So we just launched a spring line with pieces that are more simplistic in design and more affordable.” The pieces, she says, are mostly $20 to $30 and go up to the $60 range.

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

Teenage customers also told Christian Bling they wanted something specific to them—a teen line that wasn’t aimed at children or adults. “It’s about seeing themselves represented and accounted for,” Ingram says. “They wanted to feel heard and important and acknowledged.”

Tiffany & Co., home of the iconic blue box, has taken a different tack to appeal to teens: merchandising. The retailer engaged FRCH Design Worldwide in Cincinnati to design its new small format stores—in Seattle and Glendale, Calif.—and opted to no longer display jewelry under lock and key.

“The teen consumer…can now touch the ­jewelry and be inspired by different pieces,” says FRCH vice president Robyn Novak. “Teens want to feel comfortable and not have to ask permission.”

Tiffany’s open cases work well for tech-focused teens, because they can now hold the jewelry, snap a photo, and send it to their network to help with their decision-making. (Associates are, of course, nearby, to assist and make recommendations.)

“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. “They’re not going to shop with us if they don’t look up to us as a fashion expert. We don’t want to seem stodgy.”

Cause Marketing

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

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. Just don’t shout it from the rooftops.

“It’s all about being it, not saying it,” says Lee Peterson, executive vice president for brand, strategy, and design at WD Partners, a retail customer service company in Dublin, Ohio. “Young people don’t believe in straight marketing. So success in messaging is to get them talking about something you’ve done without actually saying anything.”

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

In July, Bernie Robbins held its second annual yoga fest in a huge tent in its Somers Point parking lot, donating the $10 suggested admission fee to the nearby Marine Mammal Stranding Center. “The younger demographic feels more connected to brands that have a conscience,” Hasson says. “We put a lot of emphasis on making a difference.”

Christian Bling’s Ingram couldn’t agree more. “Teenagers are craving being part of something bigger,” she says, citing the popular bracelets made in Africa and signed by the girls and women who make them. “Teens want their jewelry not only to be fashionable but also to send a message.”

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, Secret, and Whisper. The trio of sites represents the new wave of social media, providing either anonymity or posts that disappear once someone has read them. (This is in contrast to the sharing-everything-with-everybody approach that marked the social Web’s first generation.)

Mizuki Icicle triple open ring in 14k gold with diamonds; $1,850

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.

Teenagers are also going to be your best online marketers. “Their influence is huge because of technology,” says Turkcan. “They know how to get ideas out there and share them with their network.”

Pugh’s Diamond Jewelers uses teen celebrities in its social media. “We play off of what’s hot or going viral on social media, featuring the brands we carry on teen and young adult celebrities,” Jordan says. “[Teens] don’t want to wear what their parents are wearing. So it would do us no good to have an ad campaign featuring just 30- to 50-year-olds.”

Meet Them Where They Are

Last December, Bernie Robbins sponsored Jingle Ball, a massive mid-December concert in New York City that featured Gen Z faves like Selena Gomez, Fifth Harmony, and Ariana Grande. The retailer’s name was printed on the ticket (which attendees often keep as a memento), featured on a banner on the Jingle Ball website during the promo period, and mentioned in radio spots. During the event, a 10-second video played on a giant screen, and the retailer received mentions between acts.

Mizuki Shooting Arrow crossover necklace in 14k gold with diamonds; $2,350

At the event, Bernie Robbins set up a lounge with iPads, soft seating, neon lighting, and a photo booth (photo strips were printed with the Bernie Robbins name at the top). Signage everywhere encouraged concertgoers to follow the retailer on social media or sign up for its email list; everyone who did was entered into a drawing to win ­jewelry and gift cards. “We wanted to create brand awareness with new groups and a younger demographic as well as be top-of-mind during the holiday season and beyond,” Hasson says.

To test and publicize a product, Pugh’s 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 Jordan. “We gauge response by increased teen traffic from that area and get feedback on the test market from the teen wearing the product.”

Pugh’s also encourages the teens to post images of themselves wearing the products to social media. Because with Gen Zers, sharing is more than caring. It’s the best way to affect the bottom line.

(Top: Sigrid Olsson/Getty Images)


The Teen Tsunami

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

Americans born since 1995 (experts disagree on the precise year), aka Generation Z, represent a quarter of America’s population. Here’s what we know about them:

• 57 percent say they would rather save money than spend it.
• 41 percent spend more than three hours a day on their computers for non-schoolwork–related purposes.
• 81 percent of teens online use social media.
• 25 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds left Facebook in 2014.
• 76 percent are concerned about humanity’s effect on the planet.

(Source: Sparks & Honey)