Last week, we sat down with a panel of Gen Z college students to hear all about their expectations for this year’s holiday shopping season – including what they’re buying, who for and when. Here’s some of the highlights:
Prepping for the holiday season
Christian, a Pre-Athletic Training student from New York, tells us more: “For me, holiday shopping starts around Halloween – that’s kind of leading towards Thanksgiving and Black Friday. So, I try not to start too early because the earlier I start, the more money I spend. I try to give myself a large enough margin but a short enough margin that I don’t overspend.”
“I do the same,” Taylor, a Public Health Nutrition student from Arizona, agrees. “It’s Black Friday when all of those ads start popping up where I’m like, okay, I need to get serious.”
Winning the Gen Z gifters this Black Friday
With Black Friday and the days surrounding it being a popular time for financially-savvy students to purchase gifts for their loved ones – as well as a treat for themselves – we asked what more brands can do to cater to their shopping preferences.
“For instore shopping, I think sometimes the stores will try to lay out different areas for specific things that they’re selling on sale, which I think can be helpful,” says Taylor. “But letting you know where exactly that is, so I’m not just going in circles around the store looking for that one thing would be helpful to know.”
Kimberly, a Marketing and Tourism student from Los Angeles, adds: “I think what brands can do better, is they can extend their Black Friday sales a bit longer than they usually do. Because, at least in Los Angeles, they extend them up to like maybe Saturday. But some people work or have things to do, so I feel like even with that they should extend it a bit longer.”
How do Gen Z students budget their spend when buying gifts?
As students, the older cohort of Gen Z likely received multiple pay checks each month – from a job, family, or student loan – so they typically are very sensible at creating their own budgeting plan, especially around the holiday season when gifting comes to mind.
“I actually make a list, I make it around this time [Halloween],” says Kimberly. “I put my mom’s name, everyone that I will be giving a gift to, including myself, because, you got to spoil yourself sometimes. I start asking my family members what they want and if they tell me, I look online to see how much the cost is and if I can find it. And if not, I try to go to the store to see the prices. And I usually stick to two great quality gifts and I try to minimize how much I will be spending, unless it’s for my mom, I feel like I could give her anything. But I also have a limit – I usually try to just keep it under maybe 200 or 300 dollars.”
Christian adds: “For me, it’s actually the complete opposite. I kind of just wing it depending on my finances. I take what my family has been saying throughout the year because my family is very subtle, but not so subtle at dropping hints, especially around this time. Depending on how my finances are looking or how much money I’m getting from work, will depend on how I budget. I try to keep everybody within the same price range, and it also depends on how the sales go with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, when those kind of accumulate, and then some stores do post-Black Friday and post-Cyber Monday, or they do pre-sales – so I’m already looking and it’s very tempting not to buy stuff for myself.”
Which brands are on Gen Zs’ wishlists?
When it comes to gifting, most Gen Z students put a lot of time and effort to make sure they’re getting the best quality for their dollars spent. We also know that Gen Zs are known for being loyal to the brands they’ve had good experiences with before.
“I’m a big sneaker guy, so brands like Foot Locker and brands like Nike are on my list. I don’t really wear Adidas as much, but I have just started getting into Puma. So brands like those, for myself,” reveals Christian. “For the women in my family, places like Forever 21, Pandora – stuff like that for them, because realistically my brother’s going to be excited about a new pair of Jordans and my sister’s going to be excited about new earrings or makeup.”
Kimberly adds: “So it depends, for my brother I would say Champs Sports or anything sports related. Mostly Champs just because it has shoes and I can also look at their sweaters or socks. For my mom, I would say Bath and Body, Macy’s, Sephora, and probably JCPenney, and then for my grandma it would kind of be the same, plus some perfume stores.”
“I would say athleisure,” says Taylor. “I like looking at Lululemon and potentially Nordstrom. I love giving quality clothes that I know are going to last a while to family and friends. It’s always just fun to have them wear something in the future that you bought them. So I always try to do those sorts of brands.”
Creating the ultimate retail experience this holiday season: the dos and the don’ts
We know Gen Zs like to mix up their online and instore shopping around the holiday season, but when it comes to which stores (online or offline) appeal to them the most – it comes down to one main factor: student incentives.
Taylor comments: “I definitely think companies like Student Beans help. It is nice to know that there are companies out there that are offering discounts to students because we sometimes don’t have as much money as someone with a full time job. And so it is nice to know that there are little incentives that we can use as students to purchase through brands that we like to shop with.”
“Discounts are a huge thing, at least for college students,” Kimberly agrees. “I will say discounts help a lot when buying gifts to get something more affordable. And I also think that maybe on social media brands can give tips to college students or their whole following so everyone can benefit from it. Tips on how to budget or how to buy certain products.”
“There are some brands that will say there’s a site-wide or store-wide sale,” Christian explains. “And then when you get into the store, or go online, and start putting things in your cart, it will then say “excluded from discount” and half of your cart ends up being excluded from the discount. So definitely being a lot more straightforward is key. Having “exclusions may apply” in a micro-font underneath a giant sale sign is definitely misleading. It’s kind of like a letdown.”
Where do sustainable gifts fit in?
Sustainability has become a huge factor for many shoppers since the pandemic – and Gen Zs are certainly not an exception. Our findings show that 44% of 16-24s list sustainability as a priority when shopping during the holidays. We asked what a panel thought on the subject:
“I would say it definitely hasn’t been as prominent for me in the past. But given that I’m studying public health, it’s something that I’m trying to be more aware of,” comments Taylor. “I don’t really like to give gifts that I know are going to be a one use situation. If it’s going to be clothes, I want to buy something quality that’s going to last a long time and try to stay away from single-use things that don’t really mean as much to people.”
Kimberly adds, “I’m still learning and getting educated on the topic, but I also don’t give gifts that my family members would not want to use or keep using. I think it’s important to think about that when shopping.”
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