Lots of people talk about how Gen Z, born between 1996 and 2010, are influencing the retail landscape as they become increasingly powerful consumers. I was born in 1996 and have been given the incredible opportunity to be part of the Axiom development team, giving a unique Gen Z perspective on concept development and management strategies to ensure Axiom is a destination which is exciting and relevant for people like me.
I continually read about the financial woes of the physical retail and shopping centre markets and I believe that many of the problems have come from an obsession with spreadsheets and a complete failure to understand the digital world we now live in. We are in a period of seismic change which has thrown the traditional shopping centre model out of the window. The retail property industry must now evolve and adapt to cater for the demands of current generations in the retail 2.0 landscape with owners becoming less institutionalised, more dynamic and more diverse. They need to take time talking to and understanding what a new generation of consumers want and what will keep them coming back!
As your typical Gen Zer, I spend a lot of time on social media. Throughout my teenage years I spent hours on end watching my favourite influencers on YouTube, they taught me makeup tutorials for the latest Urban Decay Naked Palette and reviewed the latest trends through a twenty minute ‘Huge Primark Summer/Spring Try on Haul’. My parents could never quite wrap their head around it. ‘Why would I care about what a random girl filming in her bedroom thought about what clothes I should buy?’
Over the years this fascination has only grown, with social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat making it even easier to know what your favourite celebrity or influencer is doing at every hour of the day, what they’re wearing, where they’re going on holiday, what new health craze they’re trying. We know that most of what they’re promoting is a paid [AD] but we are still following and buying into their picture perfect lifestyle (even after the Fyre Festival scandal!).
The reach and influence of these social media ‘celebrities’ was fantastically displayed at the opening of Morphe’s brand new make-up store in the Bullring, Birmingham earlier this year. Celebrity make-up vlogger James Charles brought the centre to a standstill after 8,000 fans flooded the mall to see him cut the ribbon for the store opening. The 19-year-old has over 15 million followers on Instagram and 1.3 billion views on YouTube where he regularly posts makeup looks becoming the first male ambassador for Covergirl in 2016. Reports of escalators being shut down for safety reasons and the last minute employment of additional security staff exemplifies how landlords don’t quite understand the power that online influencers and vloggers have to endorse brands and attract consumers to physical retail spaces.
Last week Instagram announced its new feature which enables users to buy clothes in-app. Brands such as Adidas, H&M, Nike and Zara are already rolling out the ‘shoppable’ feature. This has made it even easier for social media users like me to buy products and achieve instant gratification from their purchase. When I look on my phone, I have over 20 clothing brands apps and I must admit I am guilty of spending my spare time scrolling through the ‘New In’ pages on ASOS and Missguided to buy yet another top that I convince myself I really really need.
Despite being digitally connected to my favourite brands, I also love the engagement physical retail gives me from both a social, physical (touch) and experiential perspective. In retail 2.0 it is clear that physical and digital will work harmoniously to deliver a more complete and immersive brand experience. The most successful brands are demonstrating this with their continued investment in stores which bring the digital world to life. However, many of the destinations that have traditionally housed these brands are stuck in retail 1.0. They have not moved with the times, they do not share the same values as the brands they host unable to retrofit cool and many will struggle to stay relevant.
To cater to Gen Zers and Millennials, physical retail destinations need to go a lot further than providing a cluster of anchor brands in a convenient location with lots of parking – the old retail 1.0 regional mall / shopping centre model. Consumers now have the world at their fingertips and have global aspirations. We need to be wowed and given reasons to keep coming back.
Shopping destinations need to be more like festivals, providing visitors with a constant programme of engaging events and live music, centred around unique and changing themes. Independent street food should sit against the backdrop of an excellent tenant mix and immersive digital technology. Pop-ups and product drops will keep us interested, providing constant novelty paired with the Depop-demand of wanting something unique and different. Supreme and Palace Skateboards have capitalised on this demand drawing huge crowds of Gen Zers and Millennials who want to get their hands on exclusive products that are only available to a couple of hundred customers in the world.
Our leisure experiences also need to start being influenced by the vast and dynamic offering seen around the world. As a generation we are bored of the generic cinema, indoor rock climbing wall and mini golf offer that we are so used to in our shopping centres. All generations crave experiences which are thrilling and exciting, we see videos of cool and creative leisure experiences slapped across our Facebook newsfeeds incentivising us to travel far and wide to try out the latest leisure trends, whether this be axe-throwing bars or cave trampolining.
I am at the older end of the Gen Z cohort with a massive group of younger, more ‘digitally native’ consumers coming behind me. Not so long ago I had a Motorola purple flip phone and was buying a 99p song from Apple Music once a week as pocket money – in a few short years I am on my 6th iPhone using a Spotify premium subscription. The youngest Gen Zers and Generation Alpha have never been in a world without Netflix subscriptions, Amazon Prime and now Apple TV Plus. In a few years’ time they will be influencing physical retail destinations even more and they will be demanding the same pace from their fashion supply, food offering and leisure experiences as they do with the media that they stream.
Over recent months, we have worked closely with FITCH, the world’s leading brand and retail consultancy, to develop the ‘Experience Circle’, encapsulating the experience offering that we believe needs to be built into retail destination 2.0. This has influenced the unique mixed-use offering at Axiom where we have designed a next generation ‘brand playground’ which will bring people together around many differing experiences and where we are encouraging brands to work in unusual ways to surprise and delight customers.
I am excited to be playing a part in delivering destination 2.0 as I truly believe that Axiom will meet the demands of Gen Zers and other experience driven generations, bringing consumers the latest and most innovative retail reality.