Opinion: Gen Now Is Already Shopping Your Store

Anne Mills, Manager of Consumer Insights, Technomic

Anne Mills

There’s plenty of talk today about Gen Z as the “next generation of consumers.” But for convenience operators, they’re not next—they’re now.

What’s more, Gen Z aren’t just millennials 2.0. Their makeup, behaviors and expectations differ notably from that of their predecessors, as we’ve seen in our recent study “Gen Z: Decoding the Behaviors of the Next Generation.” Even their approach to and expectations of convenience retailers differ, as we learned in our exclusive study with CSP. For c-store operators who take the time to understand this generation, the opportunity is not only now, but also for years to come.

Gen Zers are Americans ages 22 and younger, per Technomic, and they’re about to enter the workforce in waves (some already have). They make up 26% of the total U.S. population; those ages 16 to 22—the focus of our Technomic-CSP study—make up 9%. They are transitioning from kids to adults, learning how to drive and manage money and exploring what foods they like and dislike.

They’re young, but they are already your customers. Three in four (74%) Gen Zers visit convenience stores at least once a week, with 52% doing so multiple times a week. Good news: As Gen Zers age and have more independence, they visit c-stores more often. In fact, 21- to 22-year-olds are on par with millennials for weekly visits. You’ve got them!

Feeding Frenzy

Gen Zers are more ethnically diverse than previous generations, and they’re more sophisticated in their food and beverage tastes than kids before them. More good news: Reliance on foodservice grows with each new generation, meaning there’s ample opportunity for innovative c-stores to gain a strong Gen Z following.

At least half of Gen Zers polled say they buy prepared foods (50%) and beverages (59%) from convenience stores at least once a month. What they buy differs from other consumers’ purchases, due to their younger age and tendency to visit in the afternoon or evening rather than the morning. They crave variety in food and beverages: They like indulgent foods such as frozen carbonated beverages, doughnuts and pizza, but they also want healthy options such as cereal, fruit and yogurt. What’s more, Gen Zers are more likely to purchase all of these items at c-stores, compared to millennials.

Gen Z was born into the “foodie” revolution, so restaurants such as Starbucks are their hangouts. If they’re located near schools or neighborhoods, convenience stores with a strong foodservice element, seating areas and the right variety have the opportunity to attract Gen Z by positioning themselves as that social hub.

Tech Natives

Even as a millennial, I remember the days before technology took over: sharing one landline phone with the whole family, or hoping there was something I liked on the menu whenever I entered a restaurant because I couldn’t check its website beforehand.

Gen Z, on the other hand, is the first generation to enter adulthood as genuine tech natives. The Internet, smartphones, digital music—technology has been a part of their lives since they started walking and talking. Technology is not a wonderment; it’s a given.

Gen Zers anticipate tech-based amenities such as mobile apps, Wi-Fi and touch screens just about everywhere they go. They are accustomed to having everything at their fingertips, so convenience is paramount. They expect to be able to locate stores, check gas prices and place foodservice orders quickly, from wherever they happen to be.

Their tech-filled childhood also means Gen Zers have heightened expectations for fast service compared to older consumers. Amenities such as mobile apps and self-serve checkout kiosks can help meet that demand.

Frequent, but Loyal?

Low prices, enjoyable foods and beverages and a convenient location: While there are other elements that play into loyalty, these three are the primary attributes that encourage Gen Zers to be devoted to one c-store over another. However, they are less likely than the general population to say so.

The most important thing to understand about Gen Z is that while they’re young, they’re already forcing this industry to raise the bar yet again.

Given their high frequency of visits, it’s obvious that this generation has already made the convenience channel part of its lifestyle. Their need for quick solutions and speedy service makes c-stores a prime go-to for them for a range of products. Meeting their needs now, carving out that compelling point of differentiation and understanding that Z’s needs will evolve as they age will help make them customers for life.

Anne Mills is manager of consumer insights for Technomic. Reach her at [email protected].