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E-commerce giants already have what it takes to out-social social media. Here's how.

It doesn't seem to matter how blue-chip your e-commerce platform may be — or how much of a household name your brand is among previous generations. Lots of brands have an "it's complicated" status with Gen Z. If you're one such company, you're in good company.

Take eBay for instance. eBay is a far cry from 1995, when — so legend has it — the e-commerce giant sold its very first item online: a broken laser pointer for $14.83. Today’s eBay ranks at 172 among the world’s Fortune 500 companies and has a net revenue of nearly $9.6 billion. Its extant first-party data is the envy of most other e-commerce platforms. Year after year, its machine-learning algorithms manage to captivate and retain the long-term loyalty of millions of buyers and sellers worldwide.

But even major e-commerce platforms have growing pains when it comes to reaching  Generation Z — certainly at the scale required to earn major revenue from them.

Gen Z present a demographic with interests, expectations and consumer habits that are distinct from those of Millennials or Gen Xers. Today’s students admit that social media drives their purchasing habits more than any other form of merchandising model — including the model offered by eBay. With $143 billion in personal spending power at their beck and call, they’re a force of nature that needs to be catered to seriously — and eBay recognizes that. The same goes for Target. The same goes for Walmart. The same goes for Amazon.

The question is how best to cater to a generation obsessed with personalization and finicky details — but still do it on a commercial scale that matches the needs of an online retail giant?

To read more about what Gen Z wants from retail, read our latest in-depth report >

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Instagram still holds sway over Gen Z shoppers

Gen Zers enjoy the “Instagram model of shopping” that allows them to browse hashtags and discover highly specific, well-curated products that match their singular styles and expressive tastes. With the (relatively) new Instagram Shopping feature, all they need to do is click purchase — et voilà. It’s no wonder that according to at least one recent study, 43 percent of Gen Zers admit to having made at least one purchase directly through a social channel.

To its credit, eBay’s already launched a series of partnerships that aim to entice Gen Z to browse Instagram and shop its inventory directly. Working with advertising agency R/GA, they’ve launched “Wear It Your Way,” a fashion campaign that seeks to connect Gen Z Instagram shoppers directly with Gen Z-related products available on eBay. That’s a great concept, and certainly off to the right start. But as of this publication, the  Gen Z-inspired @ebayfashion Instagram handle hosts around 18,000 followers, so a bit of work needs to go into expanding it.

Can companies like eBay out-Instagram Instagram? Absolutely.

Consider these numbers: Are 18,000 Instagram followers really enough for a company with the scale and reach of eBay? With more than one billion live listings on eBay, 171 million active buyers and 25 million vetted sellers, eBay’s already primed and ready to beat Instagram-style social media marketing at its own game.

The trick for eBay is how to sort through the enormity of its inventory, cut through its own noise and find offerings that match perfectly with Gen Z’s discerning taste buds, fashionista and/or otherwise. What’s more, given Gen Z’s strong entrepreneurial instincts, a platform like eBay ought to be a natural, go-to destination to start their businesses.

But when it comes to wooing new buyers and sellers using social media advertising, it’s a touch-and-go game, no matter what generation you’re addressing. The fact is that it takes time — and a whole lot of ad-spend — to build up an audience that’s able to sustain your brand through its own organic enthusiasm.

If there’s an easier, cheaper and faster strategy (or channel) to win over Gen Z buyers and sellers to eBay, it’s probably something to look into.

The time for decisive action is... soon

Time, of course, is of the essence. Already a sea of niche competitors like Poshmark, ThredUp and Yeay are chipping into larger e-commerce platforms' potential profit margins with Gen Z. By offering the sorts of personalized curation and kid-glove convenience that Gen Z buyers and sellers crave, they’re making inroads with Gen Z despite not having anything close to the level of sophisticated data-driven insight that companies like eBay already have on their users.

Make no mistake: If major ecommerce wants to win Gen Z, it can. It will. It’s been in this game too long. It has too much first-party audience data up its sleeves. It has the size, scale and reach to see this through.

All it needs is a winning strategy that can engage Gen Zers at scale. And a winning platform to implement that strategy.

John Wheeler
John Wheeler
Managing Editor, Gen Z Insights

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