In 10 Years, Your Buyers Will Be From Gen Z. Will You Be Ready?
We are all familiar with Baby Boomers, Millennials, Gen Xers and Gen Yers, but how much do we know about the latest Gen Z? The Pew Research Center began studying the largest generation, Millennials, in 2009. Ten years later, researchers saw that the Millennial classification needed a cutoff point. That’s when Generation Z entered the ring: the “just Google it”, mobile-first, true digital native generation. Until the next generation is defined, anyone 22 years old and younger in 2019 is part of the new Generation Z.
Gen Z is the first and only generation born after the advent of the internet in 1990. Essentially, Gen Z grew up with two languages: IRL (in real life) and social media (Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook). Millennials are mobile pioneers, while Gen Zers are mobile natives. The first Millennials came into the world about nine years before the internet existed. They were teens in a world where the internet wasn’t yet ingrained into every single aspect of their lives. They straddle that pre- and post-internet world and carry traits from Gen Xers and baby boomers who came before them. They may aggravate and mystify older Americans, but if you thought Millennials were confusing, welcome to Generation Z.
These days, it’s the young that drive many purchasing trends just by asking, “Well, why can’t I just buy this with a click?” Just about all of us now shockingly have attention spans shorter than a goldfish at about eight seconds, according to a Microsoft study, but Gen Zers are normalizing that. You’ve got to catch their attention and give them something to obsess about, to research, and to develop a fixation with. The best way to do that is to apply their generation’s defining characteristics to your sales and marketing efforts, and do it fast, because in many cases, and often without realizing it, it’s the older generations following their lead when it comes to consumer behavior.
Individuality is not a trend
We’ve talked about how diverse and broad minded Millennials are, but Gen Z is even more so. From the time they were in diapers, they’ve been exposed to a wider range of perspectives, different ways of learning, and more lines of thinking than any generation before them, thanks to the internet. They’re the social media generation, and cultivating a distinct personality is important to them.
The Gen Zers out there buying cars right now are likely looking at price and value as their top considerations, but as they gain spending power, you can bet they’re going to want to be as individualized and customized in what they drive as they are in their Instagram feed. There are brands like MINI that offer customization options right off the showroom floor, of course. But savvy dealers that know more profit flows through service than sales might look to invest in affordable used cars like Honda Civics or Jeep Wranglers and offer customization packages in-house.
“Climate conscious” is the new cool
Even more than Millennials, Gen Zers are growing up with the debate over climate change front and center. Consider the current pending U.S. Supreme Court case where 21 young Gen Zers are suing the federal government over lack of action on climate change. This is a generation that is hyper-aware of carbon footprints and emissions standards, and you’d better believe they’re going to hold you to it when it’s time to buy their first car.
Vehicles are now the number one source of carbon emissions in America, and there’s no hiding it from Generation Z. Trust us. Double down on eco-friendly automobiles. It’s a good bet with Millennials, and it’ll pay off in spades when Gen Z starts pouring into dealerships.
Tech geeks and proud of it
Just like factors like the Great Recession and 9/11 greatly influenced the adults that Millennials turned out to be, the same can be said for post-millennial Gen Zers, starting with people born in 1997. This generation has no idea what an offline world looks like. They’re social media natives. Their lives are lived at least as much digitally as they are physically. They’re naturally more digitally-savvy than even Millennials ever dreamed of being. They’re issued laptops instead of textbooks. They eschew the long American teenage tradition of talking on the phone for hours in favor of Snapchat and texting. They can install software at insanely early ages and were born into a world when everything is available on-demand.
This is a generation that only understands “analog” as a vague concept. WiFi, bluetooth, navigational systems, and safety features like backup cameras or lane departure warning systems are things many of them will assume should come with a car purchase. It’s a digital world. Get ready for millennial auto trends.
Mobile first, mobile forever
Did you know an alternative name for Gen Z is the iGeneration? There’s good reason. These mobile-savvy consumers do the majority of their shopping online. We’ve talked about the changing buyer’s journey for decades, now, but this is the first generation that’s personified it. Even to older generations, the idea of going to the car lot, Blue Book in hand, to see what’s available and then trust the salesperson to give you the best advice seems absurd. Instead, we hop on our phones, troll the dealer’s inventory, then hop over to Carvana, CarGurus, eBay Motors or something similar to do our research. Then it’s looking for consumer reviews on social media, reading discussions in forums, and comparing prices and features between dealers any distance from our location we care to set the filter to. How many times has a customer shown up on your lot knowing exactly what car they want to look at and having a level of knowledge that would have astounded you 25 years ago? Brace yourself, because as Gen Z comes of age, that’s likely the only kind of consumer you’ll be seeing.
What does that mean for your marketing and sales operations? No matter what it takes, make sure your websites are mobile responsive. According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation and IBM’s Institute for Business Value, almost half of Gen Z members surveyed said the most important thing to their shopping experience is the ability to find things quickly, and more than 60 percent say they won’t use apps or websites that are slow or difficult to navigate.
All of this may sound a bit alien and difficult for us Gen Xers and Boomers to understand, but you’ve actually got a head start. If you’re well on your way to optimizing your sales and operations toward the Millennial buyer, you’ve got a jump on Generation Z. Our biggest warning is just not to rest on your laurels. Somewhere, some Gen Zer is in a garage developing a revolutionary way to change the game of buying and selling cars. Don’t be afraid to be an early adopter. Your Gen Z customers sure won’t be.
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