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According to one retail innovation analyst and “Generation Z expert,” for young consumers today, “if it’s not shareable, it didn’t happen.” That notion applies to everything in their lives, including the clothing they wear and the methods they use to purchase those products. Because of these developments, many of the clothing brands and retailers that dominated the market in previous decades are struggling, faced with a distinct lack of appeal to experience-focused, social media–addicted, young sharing consumers.

Lo-res_MHHE005173-SStores like the Gap, J. Crew, and Abercrombie & Fitch still aim to target younger buyers with their clothing offerings, but those shoppers express little interest. Whereas previous generations might have accepted that they needed to keep a few staples in their wardrobe, today’s buyers don’t want to hold on to a good old favorite pair of jeans. They want to snap up the latest style, take a picture of how it looks, and share it with their followers and friends. To be able to provide constant content updates on their social media sites, they need a constant flow of new items and clothing to highlight.

Such demands benefit the fast fashion retailers that allow consumers to grab the latest styles the very moment that they fly off the design boards. In addition, because they sell products for low prices, even the most frugal young Gen Z buyer can afford to rotate his or her wardrobe nearly constantly. As a result, fast fashion firms like Zara are enjoying the market share that previously would have been held by traditional fashion companies such as the Gap.

The influences stemming from the preferences and practices of these young consumers also is spilling over to older generations and altering the way they shop. Consider the influence of social media usage for example. By its very nature, Pinterest is aspirational, giving users something to aim for in the future. When it comes to clothing, that sort of dream approach means that pinners readily have in mind what they want to wear next. Even older consumers thus are embracing the notion that they need the newest fashions, in constant rotation, so that they can live up to the dream they have pinned on their boards.

The idea of fashion, shopping, and consumption as an experience is a broad and seemingly unstoppable trend. It might have been largely sparked by the latest generation, the Gen Z teens of today, but it is expanding out throughout the generational cohorts. Retailers thus have little choice but to find ways to ensure a shareable experience, not just a good product.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why are retailers like the Gap, Abercrombie, and J. Crew having problems attracting Generation Z?
  2. What can these retailers do to stem the tide of consumers flowing away from their stores?

Source: Mallory Schlossberg, Business Insider, February 14, 2016