by Daniel Granderson
January 25, 2021
Both Millennial and Gen Z cohorts have experienced changing digital habits since the beginning of the pandemic. In such extended time in isolation, it seems natural that people flock to their devices to find solace and community. It is widely known that Gen Zers have been attached to their phones from a young age, with most using their mobile devices upwards of five hours a day. Although there has been an overwhelmingly positive trend toward more time spent on social media platforms during this crisis, there is also speculation that this trend will decline post pandemic.
This article will describe the noticeable changes in digital consumption from both demographic groups, as well as what these trends may indicate for e-commerce businesses and marketers. In the September 2020 report Digital Consumer Payment Trends in the U.S., market research firm Packaged Facts notes that recent months have pushed digital commerce into overdrive, with Millennials and Gen Zers playing no small role in this pandemic-driven development. It is important to note that Gen Z consumers are gaining upwards of $143 billion in spending power and account for 40% of all global consumers, making them a prime target for businesses to focus their marketing efforts on.
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has led to people spending more time on social media. In a survey from May 2020, 60% of those aged 18–34 report an increase in social media usage, as well as 64% of those aged 34–39.
Instagram and Snapchat seem to benefit the most from these trends as, users averaged an estimated seven more minutes per day on social networks than in 2019, with Facebook seeing the smallest boost.
This gain is expected to decline post pandemic as hyper-aware consumers become less responsive to digital communications. Also known as “The Great Accelerator,” COVID-19 has sped up and intensified brands’ efforts to communicate with consumers across all channels, rather than assess how exactly each consumer prefers being communicated with, leading to more consumers experiencing digital fatigue.
A Stanford University study indicates that 42% of the U.S. workforce now works from home, shifting the U.S. toward a work-from-home economy. With employers and educators pivoting digitally, Zoom has become a household name. By the beginning of Q2, the company’s revenues were up 169% from 2019, and has since ended the fiscal year with over 300% growth. Investors speculate that the need for video-conferencing services will continue to increase into 2021 as employers and educational institutions make plans for flexible office policies and blended learning arrangements.
Along with Zoom, people are turning to their devices for more face-to-face interaction with friends and loved ones. Facebook saw an increase of over 50% engagement with their messaging products, and now logs over 700 million daily calls on Messenger and WhatsApp. Interestingly, Facetime is still the most popular video calling app used by Millennials as of March 2020, with Facebook following in second place.
The New York Times wrote an article describing the changes consumers have made to internet usage during the pandemic, noting that we are seeking out new ways to connect, mostly through video chat. They note that Google Duo, Nextdoor.com, and Houseparty have seen stark growth since March of 2020.
While it is true people are turning to their devices more for human interaction, there is also a growing number of Millennials and Gen Zers who are experiencing “Zoom fatigue” and are limiting their screen time. Experts have noticed the tendency to reach for cellphones for comfort in uncomfortable times, and people are now giving way to the idea of a digital detox, where you limit the amount of time you spend on your devices or change the way you engage with certain apps.
Some studies suggest that approximately 25% of the population have taken a digital detox in the past year. Additionally, Gen Z is 5x more likely to have taken at least one detox compared to older generations. The main motivations for undergoing a digital detox include spending too much time in “virtual” life than real life, focusing on too much technology, missing human connection, and increasing wellbeing.
One of the most significant changes to be mentioned is how both generational cohorts are shopping. The pandemic put a damper on an already tumultuous year for in-store retail, and trends are showing that retail as an industry will continue changing beyond COVID-19.
The number of average monthly visits to global retail e-commerce websites has officially hit 21.9 billion thanks to COVID-19 and has accelerated an already substantial shift toward e-commerce shopping over brick and mortar. Although many are shopping online due to stay-at-home orders, others are finding it easier to purchase household items through e-commerce giants like Amazon.
Younger generations are leaning on digital wallets as a convenient form of payment which have been under speculation due to recent cyber attacks on customer information. Data breaches are nothing new, however, businesses should note the increased severity of impact a breach in customer data might have on their business. When processing sensitive information, consider utilizing an identity and access management program to keep customers safe.
81% of Millennials are shopping online on a weekly basis as of a 2019 report. Both Millennials and Gen Z make up the majority of Instagram users, which has made huge strides in the e-commerce arena. Interestingly, 54% of Instagram users admit to buying something after seeing it on Instagram, and 87% said that they took some sort of action after seeing product details.
Although Millennials and Gen Zers might try to limit their time spent on devices, they certainly aren’t leaving the digital world forever. A mixture of Zoom fatigue, pandemic fatigue, and longing for human connection are all signals of changing digital habits, however, these behaviors are likely to change again once vaccines are widely available and quarantine measures begin to lift.
Businesses should note that although there are overall more eyes on screens, it may not be the best idea to advertise solely with online ads. Younger generations of consumers are more loyal to brands that respect their data, privacy and communication preferences, so this should be taken into consideration when trying to market to Gen Z and Millennials.
For more insights on how to market to Gen Z, head to Packaged Facts’ consumer trends post.
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