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This Black Friday, Gen Z values shift toward tradition and safety

by Christina Germano
    Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19

    Vibe check: We asked Gen Z how they’re feeling about the holidays

    Over the past several months, UNiDAYS has conducted ongoing surveys among Gen Z students to get their insights and track any changes on topics ranging from...

    Gen Z might be a digital-first generation, but they have an old soul. One of the most surprising Gen Z characteristics is their steadfast love for traditions, holiday ones especially. Considering how much Gen Z values these traditions, brands should expect an extra desire to keep them alive in 2020. 

    With each coming generation, market researchers like to obsess over all the industries, hobbies and passions that are bound to be “killed off”. Gen X was accused of killing the radio business, for example, and Millennials are still regularly accused of “destroying marriage”.

    Now it’s Gen Z’s turn in the barrel. Over the last few years, Gen Zers have been charged with killing off everything from in-store shopping to television to football. And while it’s pretty clear how (and why) all these things can—and will—survive the wrath of Gen Z preferences, the same can’t be said for everything.

    Take Black Friday for instance. Is there a future for the holiday shopping stalwart under Gen Z’s watch, or will it go the way of the compact disc? And what's to come of Black Friday (and Thanksgiving) in 2020, a year when Gen Z preferences have shifted to online shopping and social distancing?

    We’re glad you asked. Here’s our answer.

    Believe it or not, Gen Z truly values traditions

    In an internet age where trends and traditions can rise and fall overnight, can a shopping “holiday” like Black Friday survive the harsh preferences of Gen Z—or will it fall into obsolescence?

    Retailers should rest easy. Black Friday is becoming more popular than ever with consumers, and Gen Z seems to be leading the 12:01 AM charge. After all, Gen Z really values finding a good deal.

    Recent years have seen record-breaking crowds surging out of the cold into various retail outlets. According to Reuters, stores saw a 17.9 percent year-over-year increase in foot traffic from 2016 to 2017. Meanwhile, retailers netted $7.9 billion in overall profits in 2018, and $7.4 billion in 2019. 

    And in 2020? According to a recent survey of UNiDAYS members in the U.S., 60% are planning to do their holiday shopping over Cyber Weekend, with 39% clocking in with a budget between $100 and $500.

    So what can we gather from this? Let's look at three key Gen Z characteristics that appear to be working in Black Friday’s favor:

    Gen Z's preferences for in-store shopping over online shopping

    Multiple studies—including a retail trend report by UNiDAYS—contradict the tired, old notion that Zs only like to shop by tapping their thumbs on a mobile phone.

    This holiday season, Gen Z brands looking for foot traffic should take time to decorate their stores accordingly. According to Retail Dive, "Stores failing to wow those who do venture out for in-real-life shopping are missing an opportunity".

    Gen Z's tastes for singular and unique retail experiences

    “Singular and unique” are qualities that Black Friday has going in spades. Millions of shoppers tailgating in the freezing cold outside of malls in search of one-time offers on Roku boxes and JBL headphones? That’s Black Friday for you. The experiential appeal of Black Friday isn’t going to fade away soon. And one of Gen Z's most interesting characteristics? They love a good shopping experience. 

    Yes, this might look different in 2020, but stores with the proper social distancing precautions can expect 

    Gen Z values a good value

    Here’s the main reason why Black Friday won’t fade away, not if Gen Z has anything to do with it: Gen Z values their money. A recent study by the NRF found that 93 percent of Gen Z respondents enjoy shopping for premium products listed below their regular pricing, an even larger percentage than the massive number of American consumers (89 percent) who report shopping with a similar mindset.

    If Gen Z statistics show a return to Black Friday, why don’t they want stores to open on Thanksgiving?

    While it’s certainly true Gen Zers place a premium on “experiential shopping,” that’s obviously not all they’ve got going in their lives. If Gen Zers are breathing new life into Black Friday, how does this match up with their appreciation for the U.S. holiday that happens right before Black Friday namely Thanksgiving? It seems a little contradictory.

    A recent study by IBM found that Gen Z values spending quality time with family and friends in real life, which pretty much sums up what Thanksgiving is about. After what's likely been a difficult semester at school (or Zoom University), Gen Z college students are overwhelmingly looking forward to the time they get to spend with loved ones, as popular Gen Z Twitter hashtags like #backhomeballer can attest to. This generation's love for Thanksgiving family-and-friends time is coupled with their distaste for Gen Z brands they perceive as not “standing for anything” besides bottom-line profits.

    Stores that remain open on Thanksgiving are nice-to-have conveniences for Gen Zers, but don’t think for a second that corporate social responsibility doesn’t matter to this generation. If Gen Z brands are insensitive to the needs of employees in the name of making fourth quarter numbers, it’s something Gen Zs will notice. In fact, the impact to a brand’s reputation may be felt long beyond Thanksgiving.

    Brands especially popular with Gen Z, such as REI, are already taking a stand on this topic. In recent days, the CEO of REI has delivered very candid thoughts on the message a store sends by keeping its doors open on Thanksgiving. Other major retailers around the nation are catching on with that message, too. For the 2018 season, companies like Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble, Crate and Barrel, H&M, Costco and others will wait until Black-Friday at midnight to open their doors to shoppers, rather than staying open on Thanksgiving.

    In 2020, Gen Z are giving intense scrutiny to the way brands are treating their employees. Similarly to how they love how brands like REI close on Black Friday, they love how brands like Target and Columbia Sportswear have treated their employees with compassion during the pandemic. So, Gen Z brands, take note: If you don't have the proper safety precautions in place on Black Friday, Gen Z shoppers will notice. 

    Gen Z are super-shoppers and idealists and it’s not a contradiction.

    Part of the mystique around Gen Z is that it’s teeming with apparent contradictions. Sure, Gen Zers want to save money when they shop, but they’re only willing to sacrifice time spent with friends and family up to a certain point. The same goes for safety. At the end of the day, values are are more important to Gen Z than saving a buck.

    But they do love a good, old-fashioned holiday tradition. 

    Gen Z's favorite brands

      Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19


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