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What ecommerce can learn from in-store retail when marketing to Gen Z

by John Wheeler
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    Ecommerce tends to take its triumphs a little for granted these days.

    There’s talk of how the “Amazon Effect” has upended the traditional “offline” customer journey, rendering it obsolete. There’s the implicit notion that a customer will no longer just mosey over to their favorite store, pick out a shirt they like, try it on in the fitting room, wait in line to buy it and then purchase it from an actual, live salesperson—certainly not in a world with 100 million loyal Amazon Prime members and counting.

    There’s an overwhelming sense held among certain e-tailers that, “Once upon a time in a shopping mall far, far away lived an anchor store by the name of Sears.”

    All that would be well and good if it were true. The thing is it’s false. In-store retail is not dead. Not even close. According to a recent study, 98 percent of Gen Zers prefer in-store shopping experiences to ecommerce “some or most of the time”.

    What are some things ecommerce marketers can do that can match the panache of brick-and-mortar retail outlets successfully courting Gen Z? Let us count ‘em.

    Make shopping more personalized

    Well, first off, ecommerce marketers could study how in-store shopping makes for a more personalized shopping experience. Gen Zers enjoy in-store shopping because it surprises them with items they never knew they wanted in the first place—until they first set eyes on them. (That moment when the salesperson approached them and suggested a top they might want to match that new pair of pants they were about to try on…) 

    Ecommerce—for all its algorithms—still needs to step up its its YMAL (“you might also like”) game to match the in-store experience. A recent survey from Bazaarvoice found that consumers across a wide variety of industries including health and beauty, apparel and sporting goods wanted to see websites that are able to mirror their specific taste in merchandise; providing them with relevant info on what they ought to buy next. But the same study showed less than 30 percent of respondents reporting websites that actually gave them that ability.  

    It’s no secret Gen Zers want to feel that the things they buy were made specifically for them. Why not take a page from online sites like the one developed by The North Face, who are going full-on and exploring digital personalized shopping with the likes of IBM Watson? Personalizing your app or website to accommodate Zers’ tastes can go a long way in capturing the feel of brick-and-mortar shopping.

    Use digital to deliver more of an engaging, curated feel

    Out of everything in the world—whether virtual or IRL—what does Gen Z like the most? Simple: Stuff they find relevant, meaningful and entertaining. What do they dislike the most? Stuff they find irrelevant and boring. They see right through brands who try to to be something they’re not.The best in-store retailers are already picking up on this trend.  

    For instance, shopping malls have reinvented themselves as hands-on, social spaces where people go for more than simply merchandise. The best of them feature go-karts, ski slopes, ferris wheels and fine dining options right alongside toys, clothes and books. Rockefeller Center here in New York isn’t simply a place to buy Legos or Lululemon: it also happens to be one of the most readily Instagrammable places to be seen in the world, featuring an ice-skating rink and Radio City Music Hall. Same goes for the Mall of America in Minnesota.

    Ecommerce websites can successfully emulate these social media-fueled kinetics by showcasing their merchandise in similar ways.

    Take a look at Target: Not only is the retailer offering three new lines of tailor-made clothing to catch the collective eye of Gen Z, but it’s marketing them on highly curated social media platforms favored by Zers: i.e. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Or check out H&M: They’ve partnered with Google Assistant to create a voice application (featuring its own signature voice) able to suggest personal touches to home décor; drawing up mood boards for wherever customers are living: be it in a house, an apartment or a college dorm. The trick now for both of these giants, is make sure Zers  to find out about what they're doing to appeal to them.

    Offer customer service that caters to Gen Zers

    One of the great advantages of ecommerce is the ease and flow of its “customer-obsessed” convenience. But in-store retailers still have lessons to teach their ecommerce cousins. After all, one of the great traditional advantages of in-store retail is its potential to provide exceptional, personable customer service that can soar above anything Amazon Prime provide — no matter how fast it can provide it.

    How can ecommerce giants make their websites and apps more “personable,” relatable and face to face for Gen Z consumers? Look no further than a niche, up-and-coming Gen Z-specific ecommerce company like ThredUp.

    Seeking to offer alternatives to ecommerce giants, ThredUp not only offers highly curated clothes that can attract the cultivated sensibilities of Gen Zers — but it keeps them coming back for more by offering exceptional “seller services” that border on the kind of service you’d encounter at a high-end department store.

    What kinds of services? For starters, ThredUp makes the resale process incredibly easy for its customers by offering them a free “clean-out” bag. All that re-sellers need to do is “fill [their bags] with items in good condition… arrange a FedEx pickup time and leave the bag on your doorstep... ThredUP will do the rest to sort, photograph, price, and market your items.” It’s the sort of personal touch that wins the hearts of Gen Z time and again.

    To sum it all up, ecommerce sites are already sitting on a treasure trove of first-party website and in-app data. Odds are high that if they applied that data to enhance the user experience of Gen Z consumers — through improved personalization, curation and enhanced customer service — they’d be rewarded for it time and again (and again).

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


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      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.