Reality Bytes: New Study Reveals How Gen Z Behaves, Buys and Builds Online

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Gen Z views digital through a social lens, trusts online stores as much as physical ones and has the highest aspiration to entrepreneurship of any generation

An international study conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics and WP Engine reveals that Generation Z, born between 1996-2015, is fuelled by technology in all facets of their life, and expect the Internet to connect them, entertain them, sell to them and build their digital brand. It’s a generation whose relationship with technology can be summed up by Steve Jobs’ famous quote when launching the iPhone in 2007 - “your life in your pocket.” The survey, a follow up to one conducted in 2017, explores three key aspects of Gen Z’s relationship with digital: Being Online, Buying Online and Building Online.

“Gen Z is well on its way to becoming the largest generation of consumers by the year 2020,” said Fabio Torlini, EMEA Managing Director at WP Engine. “For marketers and brands to effectively engage Gen Z, they must embrace new technologies, experiment with new forms of communication, and internalise the nuances in how Gen Z blends the analog and digital worlds.”

Being Online

According the study, Gen Z continues to be the most Internet-dependent generation - 61% of Gen Z can’t comfortably go more than four hours without the Internet, while 13% of Baby Boomers can go a week or more. Gen Z, which has never known a world without the Internet, not only expects 24/7 digital access but expects that within five years everything - clocks, refrigerators, vacuums, dishwashers and other appliances - will be connected online.

Gen Z has grown up in the hyper-personalised world of targeted advertisements and social platforms. As a result, they are willing to trade privacy for personalised experiences - 38% will provide their personal data to enable a more personalised experience over an anonymous one. Additionally, 40% of Gen Z would stop visiting a website if it didn’t anticipate what they needed, liked, or wanted.

Buying Online

Given Gen Z’s dependence on the Internet, it’s fitting that merely being online is no barrier when it comes to earning their trust as consumers. When asked if an online-only company was less trustworthy than a solely brick-and-mortar business, 61% of Gen Z say no. As shoppers, Gen Z demands that brands be both socially accountable and imbued with a sense of authenticity in their interactions. 65% of Gen Z are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes, while 30% have stopped buying from a company that contributes to a social cause with which they disagree. This is similar to Baby Boomers, 28% of whom would stop buying from a company if they disagreed with their stance on social issues, while 60% are more likely to buy from companies that contribute to causes with which they agree.

Another interesting digital note: despite Gen Z’s eagerness to access the web using new methods and different devices, they still show a clear preference for a company’s website over a mobile app when making purchases. This fact held true across all generations, with Baby Boomers leading the pack at 93%, followed by Gen X (89%), Millennials (71%), and Gen Z (69%).

Building Online

When it comes to building their career, Gen Z is much more entrepreneurial than their predecessors - 63% said they would or possibly would start their own business. 62% of all respondents across the generations would start their business online first, proving that most new companies will be a tech company at heart.

For Gen Z, building a personal brand is also highly instinctive, but they are much more purposeful and conscientious about it than their Millennial counterparts. 70% of Gen Z worry that their online actions, including social media posts and past purchases, will affect job offers. 47% believe their online reputation will determine their dating options. Perhaps that’s why Gen Z is fiercely committed to authenticity when considering the brands they use and buy. 82% of Gen Z trust a company more if the images they use are not photoshopped and 84% trust a company more if they use actual customers in their ads.

The following are key findings from the study.

Internet vs Education: 62% of Gen Z would rather have unlimited access to the Internet and no college degree than a college degree and no access to the Internet. This was a tracking question from our 2017 survey and it increased 5% year over year (59%).

In Internet We Trust: Gen Z is part of growing trend of those who view the people who manage or build the Internet as equal to or more important than political leaders around the world. 46% of Gen Z believe that people who build/manage the Internet are more important than political leaders around the world.

Content Matters: 29% of Gen Z prefer to be entertained by a company’s online content, while 94% of Baby Boomers prefer to be informed. 74% of Gen Z are more likely to purchase from a company that provides consistent and relevant content (videos, blogs, social media posts, magazine).

News vs Entertainment: When it comes to news, 84% of all those polled prefer that it is accurate, however Gen Z (18%) and Millennials (19%) lead those who prefer the news to be entertaining. Gen Z had the most amount of trust in the news, with 32% saying they trust or highly trust it compared to 24% of Baby Boomers.

Tech Forecast: Gen Z has a powerful tech-centric view of the future. When thinking about how websites will function five years from now:

  • 78% of Gen Z believe that with biometrics (fingerprint and face recognition, voice and speech recognition), Internet authentication will be done without keyboards.
  • 77% think that through augmented reality or virtual reality, the Internet will impact our view of the world constantly, wherever we are.
  • 63% believe that everyone will have their own personalised virtual digital assistant (Siri, Alexa, etc.) to help them do everything they need to do online.
  • 78% think all software and websites/digital experiences will have digital learning/AI capabilities.

“Gen Z is empowered, connected, practical, empathetic self-starters who want to stand out and make a difference in the world,” said Jason Dorsey, President at The Center for Generational Kinetics. “They merge the human and digital experiences - it is all one combined reality for them. They are fuelled by technology engagement and value uniqueness, authenticity, creativity, shareability and purpose. And they look for that from the world around them.”

Raised on the Internet, Gen Z Lives In A Different World

From being to buying or building online, Gen Z is already changing the way we build digital experiences. While generations from Baby Boomers to Millennials continue to view the Internet as bimodal, Gen Z is the first generation to intrinsically combine the digital and the physical worlds. From now on, the digital experience will be synonymous with our human experience.

To read the complete “Reality Bytes: Gen Z and the New Rules of Engagement” study, visit https://wpengine.com/gen-z-eu and learn more about the results, sign up for the Gen Z webinar and download a copy of the ebook and infographic.

Survey Methodology

The custom 30-question survey was designed collaboratively by WP Engine and The Center for Generational Kinetics. The study was administered to 1,008 respondents in Western Europe (UK, Ireland, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Switzerland), ages 14-59, who currently use a smartphone on a regular basis, and it was weighted to current Western Europe Census data for age, gender, and region. The survey was conducted online from August 30 - Sept. 3, 2018. The study’s margin of error is +/-3.1%.