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Retailers prep for new generation of shoppers
PSU student Rae Zeller browses options at Audacious Boutique in Downtown Pittsburg last week ahead of the holiday rush.

Retailers prep for new generation of shoppers

As the nation gears up this week for the busiest shopping season of the year, retailers are paying more attention to a new generation of shoppers that yields incredible influence: Generation Z.

“Everybody wants to talk about Millennials,” said Eric Harris, professor of Management and Marketing at Pittsburg State University. “But the fact is that a lot of Millennials are now in their 30s, and having kids of their own. Retailers are shifting their focus to ‘Generation Z.’”

While there is some dispute as to the definition of Generation Z, most marketers place its start right around 1996. At between 2 and 2.52 billion strong, their buying habits reflect those of their grandparents, according to a report by IBM and the National Retail Federation (NRF): 98 percent of them still prefer to make purchases in brick-and-mortar stores.

It’s this characteristic that has Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and economic development director for the City of Pittsburg, so optimistic about the future for community retailers.

“Consumer habits have definitely changed,” Benson said. “Today’s shopper doesn’t want a one-size-fits-all experience. They want unique offerings, personalized service, and a shopping experience that is as unique as they are.”

Benson pointed out that while shopping habits may have changed over the past decade, taking a longer view of consumer preferences shows attention to personal service isn’t anything new.

“In Pittsburg, stores like Little’s (a local clothing store) were really ahead of their time,” said Benson. “For more than 50 years, they offered exceptional apparel and very personalized service. It’s one of the reasons people considered Pittsburg a retail destination then, just as they do now. Our retailers understand that shopping isn’t just transactional, it’s an experience. It’s an opportunity to socialize and create memories.”

Research on Generation Z shows its members are expecting much the same type of experience. A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that 81 percent of Gen Z consumers prefer to shop in stores, including small businesses.

“We have to remember that Gen Z is by far the most diverse generation we’ve had,” Harris said. “They’ve grown up with diversity from all walks of life, including family structure, ethnicity, and gender roles. They’re also very aware of themselves and their place in society, and they desire to connect with others. It’s why they prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores rather than online. They want the personal attention and experience that they can only find by walking through the doors of a store.”

New entrepreneurs in Pittsburg are offering those kinds of experiences, he said. Last year, 79 new, active local small businesses set up shop in Pittsburg, and in the past few years, nearly $288 million has been invested in the local community, according to Pittsburg State University’s latest Microplitan Report.

“You see it in the recent addition of boutiques, restaurants and entertainment settings,” Harris said.

And, he predicts it will continue.

“The current construction of Block22 will bring more retailers, students and entrepreneurs into downtown Pittsburg, which should only accelerate the city’s recent growth,” he said.

A bonus to this year’s holiday shopping season, Benson noted, is that a day after Black Friday, Pittsburg State will host the 5A Kansas High School Football Championships on Saturday. Retailers and the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce are gearing up for Small BusinessSaturday the same day.

“We’ll have a lot of shoppers in our city from other communities, some of whom will be here for the first time,” Benson said. “It’s a great opportunity for our retailers to put their best foot forward and showcase why Pittsburg is a retail destination. Personal service, unique offerings and a tremendous shopping experience.”

As research shows, that’s a retail formula that’s attractive to every generation.

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