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Three trends that will define Gen Zs’ post-pandemic spending

three students on a staircase taking a group selfie

With New York announcing the end to COVID restrictions earlier this month, we explore how students across the US are releasing their post-COVID pent-up demand – and how your brand can tap into the excitement.

Vaccines are well and truly rolled out in the US, and life is beginning to feel a lot more normal for students across the states. For brands, this return to normality poses some questions. What does this mean for student spending over the summer months and beyond? What trends that surfaced over the pandemic are here to stay? 

Based on our Gen Z learnings, we’ve identified themes and trends that will define student spending in the coming months – to help enrich your brand’s strategy. So, let’s explore.


With most students unable to take part in their usual social activities, classes, jobs or internships, Gen Zs in particular have been spending more of their time online – observing new trends, news stories, campaigns and more.

Being so well connected online means Gen Zs are hyper aware of socio and economic issues. Sustainability was on their radar before the pandemic, but the conversation surrounding climate change has really blown up since March 2020.

With the world standing still, images of nature were sweeping the internet. We were seeing dolphins swimming through the watery streets of Venice for the first time in a long time; penguins were openly exploring their aquarium in the absence of tourists, and fewer cars on the roads meant less noise and pollution in even the busiest of cities. On the other hand, we’ve seen disposable masks littering the streets, panic buying leading to food waste, and single-use cups and cutlery being used more frequently to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Through it all, young people have been instrumental in voicing their concerns about climate change, and have acted by following and encouraging sustainable initiatives. Brands too have been joining this narrative – aligning with Gen Z’s views and saving the planet all at once.


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A post shared by Levi’s (@levis)

Levi’s recently launched its ‘Pride it yourself’ campaign, to raise awareness for Pride Month and to encourage others to dress sustainably – which they also do via the Levi’s Secondhand site. Meanwhile, Princess Polly’s Earth Club is a relatively new brand initiative that’s been a hit with the brand’s customers. 

“Our customers really care about the environment, and as a brand we really care about the environment, too,” explains Kim Zorn, Head of Performance. “Princess Polly Earth Club focuses on four key impact areas – ethical sourcing, sustainable products, protecting the planet and equality. We also recently launched our first sustainable range, which sold out so quickly – we’ve already had to restock it!”

In total, 95% of students in the US say it’s important that a brand cares about sustainability and protecting the environment – it’s certainly a retail trend that’s here to stay.

Big ticket purchases

The pandemic has been a major struggle for industries like events and travel. As such, many students have not been able to spend within those typically big ticket verticals. With pent-up demand excitement fully underway, we expect more students to adopt a ‘treat yourself’ mentally this year – especially the 27% that spent less and saved money during the pandemic.

Perhaps more so than any other year prior to the pandemic, students will be prepared to invest in experiences and big purchases when the world opens up again – including travel. Indeed, 58% have already browsed travel websites, and at least 23% have booked a holiday within the US so far.

After an incredibly difficult year, during which even the biggest travel brands feared for their future, things are finally looking up for the sector, and we can see that reflected in our latest Youth Brand Affinity Tracker. Each of the airline brands and travel booking sites featured in our top 10 have seen a notable increase in the brand engagement, purchase intent and brand advocacy metrics compared to Q1 – which shows that young consumers trust these brands and feel more comfortable to start booking future vacations and activities.

American Airlines has even managed to jump up one spot this quarter, with a 7% increase in purchase intent, and 4% increase in brand advocacy. Airbnb also saw an increase of percentage points across the engagement, intent and advocacy metrics. Clearly, students are ready for a getaway this summer.

group of students sat round a fire on the beach

Prepping for college

July and August are the most popular months for students to start their Back to School shopping. This year, new and existing college students are gearing up for a first semester full of campus activities, events, in-person classes, sports and club outings.

However, the pandemic has triggered an interest in some students to continue learning in a hybrid model once life returns back to normal. As digital natives, it’s not surprising that incorporating online learning into their studies, alongside in-person classes, is appealing. For many, it can save time and money.

Current nursing student, Margaret, told us: Right now I’m loving my schedule. I like how there’s a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online classes. I think I am going to actually stick to how I am learning now, and maintain a good mix of traditional, hybrid, and online classes. Even if traditional classes are offered – I might take a few but I definitely want to keep some hybrid classes.”

Brands will need to think about blending their post-pandemic messaging to account for these learnings taken from the last 15 months. Pent-up demand for college events will be high – if in-person Back to School events go ahead this year as expected, at least 77% of last year’s new students will take part – but students are equally keen to embody a healthy mix of URL and IRL into their college lifestyle. Creating a stylish and comfortable home set-up will be key for students wanting to keep an element of online learning in their schedule – make sure your offering reflects this.

As Gen Z college students embrace the release of pent-up demand, learn how you, as a US-based brand can tap into it by watching: Gen Z and pent-up demand: a quick explainer.

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