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From Generation Z to the Baby Boomers, there’s a wealth of research into the shopping habits of the various generations and companies are having to react to differing priorities depending on who their sweet-spot customers are.

It’s frightening to think that the latter generation, “Gen Z”, have never known a world without the internet. This digital generation is reflected in their shopping preferences, using social media as a shopping channel, making the majority of purchases online and carrying out serious research to compare prices, styles, availability, etc. before the purchase is made.

When it comes to the older generations, such as Gen X and the Baby Boomers, they are more resistant to marketing initiatives and grand statements, preferring to stick with the adage “if something seems too good to be true, it generally is”. Although they will use the internet for research and can be tempted into shopping online, they tend to shop in bricks & mortar stores. And they have high expectations of customer service, basing their brand loyalty on how they feel they’re being treated.

Changing the face of retail

By 2020 researchers believe Millenials and Gen Z will represent over 60% of the retail consumers, so the industry must change to adapt to their buying habits. Analysts suggest that retailing will evolve more in the next five years than in the last 50, driven by the changing profile of consumers; developments at that pace brings risk to the retailers if they aren’t prepared to change existing practices.

One of the key changes the Millennials and Gen Z consumers are driving is to raise the priority of a product’s green credentials (the ubiquitous “Green Consumerism”). These two generations, more than any previously, are very aware of both the ecological and ethical issues blighting the global village and want to know that their retailers and products are equally aware and reacting where they can. To compound the problem, these age groups also see the world as very accessible, have frequently travelled much further afield than previous generations and therefore want to be able to experience exotic products when back home. Using technology, retailers and brand-owners are addressing this by capturing more product data, carrying out detailed ethical audits, evaluating their complete supply chain to identify issues (and addressing them at source) and insisting their suppliers have equally robust standards in place. Sadly it’s nigh on impossible to account for human nature so once standards are established they will constantly need validating. This is where innovative technology comes in. It should be front and centre in the drive to establish and maintain a strong ethical policy with supplier details, maintained along with appropriate documentation and all product information updated on a frequent basis.

Just as our Millennials and Gen Z consumers are demanding more attention to green consumerism, they’re also increasingly expecting products and product-ranges to constantly, and quickly, evolve. Our older generations are more used to products lasting a long time and getting every ounce out of a purchase, but nowadays clothes are frequently bought with little expectation of the item being in fashion for long. So our younger generation have been responsible for yet another new phenomenon, that of “fast fashion” which, just as with the ethical and environmental demands, can give retailers headaches as they try to keep up with the rate of consumerism. The demands for improved speed to market are ever escalating and as with ethical trade, technology can offer great support in achieving this. A huge team is involved in getting products to market, so if the communication and sharing of information is fractured across this web then errors creep in, delays are inevitable and there’s no clear visibility during the process. This is hugely inefficient; hold-ups in getting a product to market not only represent an unnecessary cost but also lead to lost sales and the potential for a new range to fail.

With continued uncertainty over Brexit, tough trading conditions in a highly competitive environment and the demand to drive costs down, the need to keep up with the latest generations is a real challenge for many companies. But what they have to realise is that technology, far from being an unwarranted cost, can save a significant amount of money and, given the changes the industry is facing, might just be the difference between growing the business or watching the competition streak ahead.

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