As we turn the page on the dumpster fire that was 2020, we recap what one of the biggest characteristics of the year was for Gen Z.
Coronavirus did a number on us all in 2020. But given all the milestones college-aged Gen Zers should have experienced but likely didn’t—leaving home, freedom, college, first apartments, internships, graduation, first jobs—they may have been hit the hardest. While it may be ‘too soon,’ the good news for Gen Z is that whatever stressors their future may hold, they will be more prepared to handle and manage them after surviving the pandemic.
Whether it was suddenly having an entire dorm room to themselves, participating in or even creating TikTok trends (dalgona coffee anyone?), or picking up a new hobby, Gen Z spent 2020 doing things they weren’t expecting to do.
With less going out and more staying in this year, what did Gen Z spend their money on? After the onset of the pandemic, UNiDAYS analyzed the activity of over 1 million students on our app to find out. While some of what we found out was surprising, that self care emerged as a big focus this past year was not.
We found that sales of skincare products among Gen Z have more than doubled, up 118% versus pre-COVID levels, with make-up and accessories also seeing more than 50% growth. You can get the complete spending picture in our research report, UNiDAYS: Analyzing Gen Z Spending Habits Before and During COVID-19.
“During quarantine, I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different skincare products and routines to find the one that works best for me. Taking a break from wearing makeup everyday has been freeing, honestly.” - Samantha
Skincare brands that honed in on authenticity, one of the characteristics Gen cares about, were winners, even during the pandemic. Take Topicals, a skincare brand that launched in August. Founded by two Gen Z “women of color who’ve always had skin that didn’t look like what we saw in our favorite TV commercials and magazines,” Topicals embraces flare ups by celebrating them. And the brand is transparent, still another trait that Gen Z values. “We are fluid, imperfect, shape-shifting, and real representations of your skin and life,’ the site states, which is evident from the customer submissions of ‘funner flare ups’ featured on their homepage. The brand also invites people to post images of themselves to the “Burn Book,'' a digital space to chat about toxic beauty standards and share mental health self-care tips.
In an almost slow-rolling, year-long cadence, Gen Zers found themselves with cancelled internships, closed gyms and ample free time. Many chose to leave their dorm and return home.
“The pandemic and all the restrictions that came with it actually caused me to grow as a person. I started working out a lot and I had a lot of time to self reflect.” - Audrey
Along with the obvious cons of moving back home (less freedom and fewer social opportunities), there were a few pros (no need to buy groceries or shampoo and toilet paper). Zers were left with more disposable income than usual. This could explain why 72% of students say they’ve been shopping more since the pandemic struck. As reported in our research study, a closer look at health and fitness spending among students tells us that average order value increased by over 70% between March 1st and May 31st compared to the same time last year.
A recent survey from VICE Media of Gen Z and millennials around the world found that 52% of young people said they will spend more time on physical fitness after COVID-19, and 20% said they will spend more money on physical fitness once the pandemic is over.
But all that exercise might not be taking place in the gym. In the VICE survey, 56% of young people said they will mostly exercise alone after the pandemic, and 47% said they will use their own at-home workout routine rather than going to a gym or an in-person class.
Gen Z is willing to make sacrifices when it comes to keeping loved ones safe during the pandemic. The VICE survey found that 81% of respondents said keeping their friends and family healthy is more important than being able to see them in person. More than half of the young people VICE spoke with also said they will seek science-backed information more than they did before COVID-19.
“2020 made me angry. It’s still making me angry. I’m missing out on a lot of important experiences that I won’t get back. Anything good? It has grown my appreciation for science and essential workers.” - Lillian
Can the beloved Dr. Anthony Fauci have anything to do with this? It’s possible given the mass appeal the infectious disease expert has had among Gen Z. With appearances on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and conversations with other A-list celebs like Stephen Curry, Dr. Fauci has credibility with Gen Z. In fact, he has memes. There’s even a Fauci mood meter.
But what is it about Dr. Fauci that resonates with Gen Z? After all, at age 80, he’s in the great-grandparent age range. For Gen Z, it’s the timeless qualities of transparency and empathy. Fauci admits that wearing a mask isn’t ideal but if we do it, it will pay off—for everyone. His authenticity, candor and no-nonsense approach to the facts and science has given Gen Z straightforward guidelines to follow and someone to believe in.
After all, Dr. Fauci went to the North Pole to vaccinate Santa himself.
It’s hard to say with any certainty what 2021 holds. But we can count on Gen Z to remain true to themselves and the values they hold important.
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