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Ecommerce post-pandemic: will Gen Z students continue to shop online? 

A girl browses in store, wearing a mask

While COVID-19 is by no means behind us, the global vaccine rollout has given us some confidence to plan ahead. But what exactly are we planning for?

This time last year, brands across the world were forced to adapt quickly to new lockdown measures. Brands usually renowned for in-person experiences got creative, went digital, and gained a thriving Gen Z consumer base amidst one of retail’s most disruptive periods. 52% of UK shoppers are buying things online that they used to but instore, and 64% intend to keep this up post-COVID. Additionally, 81% of students regularly ordering takeaway have been doing so even more during the pandemic.

From delivery services to e-commerce platforms, lockdown has been a key chance for certain brands to attract new Gen Z consumers. But when the world opens up, will they still win their loyalty?

Australia: an evolving case study

To find answers, we must look to Australia – a country that bears the greatest resemblance to pre-pandemic “normality”. During the pandemic, 42% of Australian students report shifting to online shopping. Since lockdown ended, 70% have gone out for a meal, 59% have visited non-essential shops, and 40% have gone out for drinks at a bar or pub. It’s an encouraging sign for in-person retail and hospitality businesses – there’s a clear indication of pent-up demand among younger consumers, and students are cautiously excited to return to in-person experiences.

A girl browses on her mobile phone

In spite of this renewed confidence in exploring the physical world, Australian Gen Zs still showed a strong commitment to online shopping when we surveyed them in early March 2021. 75% say that they browse online stores at least once a week – and for one-third of young Gen Zs, this weekly browsing results in a weekly online purchase. It’s an early sign that they won’t be deleting those e-commerce apps anytime soon.

Digital natives during COVID and beyond

Before Gen Z inherited their spending power, it was tempting to split shopping into two distinct camps – in-person and online. It’s crucial for brands of all verticals and formats to understand that this split will end with Gen Zs. As digital natives, they know how to switch between the two better than any of their predecessors. 75% of UK students mixed online and instore shopping during Freshers 2019. In the US, 82% of students opted for both methods.

When non-essential shops and in-person dining reopen, you’ll no doubt find Gen Zs in attendance. As a generation, they love experiential retail, and drinking culture is less of a cornerstone in their social lives, so you’re more likely to find groups of students out for meals or on a shopping trip together.

A girl shops next to a sleeping dog

But – perhaps even simultaneously – they’ll be browsing e-commerce apps and deciding where to get their next takeaway. To be digitally native is not to exist completely online, with no IRL touchpoints. Rather, it’s the ability to switch seamlessly between the two.

The end of COVID-19 does not mean the end of Gen Z’s digital shopping tendencies. They’re less likely to view the brands that they love as being explicitly ‘e-commerce’ or ‘in-person’, because their own concept of the real and the digital is blurred.

a shopping mall populated with shoppers

Gen Zs are far more likely to shop with brands that responded well to the pandemic – or to matters close to them, such as Black Lives Matter and the environment. Time and time again, across all verticals, they’ve also highlighted that quality is a must. These are the factors that matter to Gen Zs.

Gen Zs are unlikely to change how they shop anytime soon – but their brand loyalties are in constant flux. Check out our Youth Brand Affinity Tracker to see which brands are winning this quarter.

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