Generation Z Schools Retailers for BTS Season

September 18, 2017

While we may be in the midst of summer, the back-to-school (BTS) shopping season has already started. And for Generation Z, it’s happening in-store. Despite this emerging group of consumers growing up with phones in hand, Generation Z kids are still looking for the personal in-store experience of loading notebooks and No. 2 pencils into their shopping carts, trying on the latest sneakers and activewear trends, and waiting in line for the hottest technologies.


Retailers and brands looking to attract this consumer demographic must be prepared to engage with them earlier this year, be ready for those interactions to take place in-store, and be willing to offer deals. To help retailers better understand how Generation Z is shopping for BTS, we conducted a survey on their behaviors and influencers driving purchase decisions.


Here are some of the key takeaways from the latest survey:


In-Store Shopping is Key

Fifty-four percent of boys and girls surveyed prefer to shop exclusively in-store. The survey found even higher in-store shopping rates in the categories of school supplies (71 percent) and beauty and personal grooming products (62 percent). That’s not to say that Generation Z shoppers aren’t using the internet. In fact, 30 percent of boys and girls surveyed said they will shop both online and in-store this BTS season. Boys are more likely to use the internet exclusively, with 9 percent stating they will only shop online vs. just 4 percent of girls.


Gen Z is Shopping Earlier, Especially Boys

One quarter of kids surveyed said they plan to shop earlier this year than they did last year — and gender and geography appear to matter. Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to shop early, particularly younger boys. And while the majority of kids begin their BTS shopping in August, 37 percent of respondents in the South, where school starts earlier, plan to begin their BTS shopping in July.


Deals and Discounts Dominate

More than 90 percent of boys and girls said that discounts and deals are at least somewhat important to them when they’re shopping for BTS. Not surprisingly, boys and girls value discounts in different categories. Boys place more importance on discounts when buying athletic shoes and sneakers, sports and activewear, and technology. Girls appreciate discounts when buying school supplies, beauty and personal grooming products, shoes, and decorative items.


Wal-Mart Rules BTS

Wal-Mart seems to be the retailer of choice for Generation Z. Thirty-six percent of boys and girls surveyed cited the retail giant as their first choice for BTS shopping, more than double that of any other retailer. Target ranked second, especially among girls, followed by, favored by the boys.


Parents + Friends = Top Influencers

Parents can rejoice knowing they still have significant influence over their kids’ decisions, particularly when buying school supplies, technology, and beauty and personal grooming products. However, Generation Z continues to rely on the opinions of their friends. For boys, friends’ opinions matter most when choosing athletic clothing and shoes. Girls look to their friends for opinions when buying accessories and decorative items.


As Generation Z begins their BTS shopping earlier, brick-and-mortar stores, especially mass merchants like Wal-Mart, should be prepared for the increased foot traffic. Marketing efforts need to cater to this young demographic, and specifically address the different preferences and habits of boys and girls.


Generation Z may be small in stature, but they can have a big impact on a retailer’s bottom line, as they’re one of the decision makers in the household and influencers on their parents’ wallets!


Farla Efros is the president of HRC Retail Advisory, a retail consulting firm.


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