What you need to know about future generations of consumers

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The way we experience things is constantly changing and you need to adapt to build a future-proof business. If you want to look to the future, the best option is – and always will be – to look at the younger generation.

Generation Z (ages 10-25) and our younger siblings Gen Alpha (not all born yet) already make up a third of the US population. Some of us already know how to make our own money, while many of us still rely on our parents – but we all know how to spend it. Getting to know us is a smart move.

So let’s start with Generation Z, which is my generation. Here are some necessary information:

Related: Two Generation Z influencers explain how to target young consumers

Generation Z: A Quick Guide

Fortified by the influence of:

We are the first generation that was born fully post-internet. Ninety-five percent of us have smartphones by the age of 12 and spend a large part of our lives on social media. The platforms we like – Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok – are just as important creation how they consume.

As digital natives, our first instinct is not just to be followers, but to engage with brands we like. We know the world is online now, so you can join the game using any mobile device. This means that you should not treat us as passive consumers. If you engage us and we delight in your product, we will become spokespersons for your brand.

Cynical but understanding:

Most of our parents are Generation X. We are masters of BS detection in the digital world because it is our home turf. So anything that seems fake or inauthentic will be fine-tuned.

We are not as sensitive or impractical as you might think. We understand that all people and all brands make mistakes. We care about what you do as a business and if you make a mistake, we just expect you to own it. If you are genuine and transparent, we will find out and respond. Our dollars are votes, and when we buy your product, we see it as a reflection of our values.

Independent but community oriented:

Because our lives are digital, my generation is also the most socially isolated. It’s obviously been hard for all of us who have had to stay home from school during the pandemic. We’ve learned how to fend for ourselves, but we also crave the community and experiences we’ve missed out on.

This is a double-edged sword for potential employers. On the one hand, the workplace is a community and can be a tie. On the other hand, my generation is mastering the art of touring and side hustle. It is much easier to have your own business in the creator economy.

This means work-life balance is non-negotiable, hybrid working should be the norm and workplaces must be where we want to spend our time. Benefits such as free meals are a plus, but also the chance to grow and grow in the long run (in ways we couldn’t do ourselves online) could very well be decisive. My Generation Z friends fall into two categories – those who jump from job to job and those who are looking for unique opportunities. Nobody just settles down.

Forward-thinking yet nostalgic:

If you’ve noticed the hashtag #y2k popping up and wondered why, it’s because we Zoomers aren’t just about the future. Perhaps this is due to an idealized view of the good old days, but the early 2000s are – for whatever reason – a period that fascinates us.

Companies have been able to resist this nostalgia by bringing back retro styles and products like cameras and flip phones. I have to admit that I recently realized that wired headphones are better than AirPods. Not everything newer is better. You may have also heard about how demand for Ugg boots surged 525% when TikToker posted a video of a pair she modified.

It’s decentralized research and development courtesy of Generation Z. Take action and keep an eye on how people use your product.

Not digital but physical:

Just as we are not solely focused on the future, we are not solely focused on the Internet. Unlike millennials, who focus less on “things” and more on experiences, we are interested in material objects. In a world where digital is often the same as free, non-digital has a more valuable, exclusive vibe. It’s also easier to stand out when you have something that can’t be copied in one click.

When it comes to making everyday purchases, we buy online, but we go to brick-and-mortar stores for meaningful and luxurious shopping. If you’re going to make a significant investment, it’s worth checking out for yourself. So, brick and mortar isn’t dead – at least on our watch. You can ask any luxury watch retailer, but most of them are sold out.

Related: 3 Marketing Lessons I Learned From My Digital Kids

Gene Alpha: What do we know?

People are curious to see what changes the next generation will bring to the game, including me. I think it’s a bit early to judge because most Alpha Generations are still kids and their priorities will most likely change as they get older.

That said, there are a few things we can do:

  • Their parents are millennials: Unlike older generations, millennials probably won’t have to rely as much on their children as their digital guides, and they’re already savvy enough to control what they can do or what they’re exposed to. We may be witnessing the transmission of millennial customs and preferences, and some of the above trends are reversing. So don’t throw away your old market research – it may be valuable again in a few years.

  • The future will be built by: I mean it literally. Gen Alpha, like my partner Danny’s son Tyler, has already built many virtual worlds in Minecraft and released a whole lot of Robux. Gen Alpha will reach maturity as technologies such as AR, VR and blockchain take world building beyond gaming and into the mainstream economy. Danny and I are working to help companies prepare for this future. And its future builders will be geared towards Gen Alpha.

  • They like to be outdoors: As with shopping, not everything goes one way. Gene Alpha obviously has some serious screen time (around 4 hours and 44 minutes a day). But like all children before them, they also like to play outside. So while they experience things that previous generations never thought of, some things haven’t changed at all.

Did all this make you feel a little confused? I’ll break it down for you. Generation Z and Generation Alpha have been forced to become more independent due to circumstances beyond their control and are deeply engrossed in their games and entertainment. We accept changes and expect updates to our products and services.

Embrace the changes, welcome the future, and be ready for what’s coming. The Beta generation is just around the corner.

Related: 4 Unconventional Ways to a Better Market for Gen Z

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