How brands can use social to connect with Gen Z

Younger consumers’ social media usage has gone up as a result of the pandemic
Katherine Cullen
Director, Industry and Consumer Insights

From online classes to virtual study groups to socially distant lectures, the coronavirus pandemic means the college experience could look very different this fall.

Consumers’ shopping plans reflect that new environment: The annual Back-to-College survey conducted by NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics found more students and their families are anticipating they will need laptops, speakers, headphones and other electronics in preparation for distance learning. And, with new health and safety precautions in place in many areas, shoppers are most likely to go online to buy the items they will need for school.

In the meantime, college consumers — already a digitally active generation — have gotten used to many other aspects of their lives moving online. A recent survey conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights of 1,108 college students aged 18-24 found the demographic’s social media usage has gone up as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. TikTok has seen the largest increase: 75 percent of TikTok users report their usage of the platform has gone up since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s no surprise that the sudden shutdown of campuses across the country and the ensuing months of social distancing have intensified the digital habits of Gen Z,” says Lisa Malat, President of Barnes & Noble College. “And while the digital experience has always factored heavily into the way this generation shops, now more than ever they’re turning to their favorite social platforms for inspiration on what to buy.”

NRF and Barnes & Noble College took a closer look at the data to understand what it means for brands and retailers looking to connect with their Gen Z shoppers during the back-to-college season and beyond.

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