The Gen Z Guide


They may only be teens or in their mid-20s, but Generation Z is shaping the shopping trends of the future.

With the eldest just now moving out on their own and starting their careers, Generation Z isn’t likely to make up the bulk of your mattress shoppers right now. But they’ll continue to move into those stages of life — getting married, purchasing homes, having children — that tend to go along with buying beds and sleep accessories. 

They already have purchasing power: $360 billion by the end of 2022, according to “What Clicks With Gen Z,” a 2022 white paper from Creatopy, a San Francisco-based ad design platform.

And, as the youthful generations did before them, Gen Zers are shaping broader shopping trends.

“Gen Z (is) now creating trends that ripple up and affect the behaviors and preferences of older generations of consumers around the world, from technology to entertainment and banking. … We expect (that) will accelerate rapidly over the next three years. Gen Z will determine winners and losers when it comes to brands, marketplaces and future growth — the key to success is taking the right steps now to grow with Gen Z,” according to “The State of Gen Z 2020,” a report from The Center for Generational Kinetics, an Austin, Texas-based research and consulting firm.

What will you need to do to woo these shoppers? Let’s look at how Gen Zers evaluate brands, and how they prefer to research and shop for products.

Always online

Gen Zers haven’t known life without handheld digital devices and constant access to the internet. According to the Creatopy white paper, they, on average, got their first smartphone at age 12.

And when they’re online, they spend a lot of their time on social media. According to Creatopy, 42% of Gen Zers average 1-3 hours on social platforms a day, and 30% spend 3-5 hours scrolling social media a day. Just over 16% use social media more than five hours a day. That’s a lot of screen time.

Their favorite platforms, surveys agree, are Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Snapchat is also big. You know what isn’t? Facebook and Twitter. In some surveys, those two are in the single digits in terms of the percentage of time Gen Zers spend on them. 

Generation Z also uses social media differently than other generations. As Erifili Gounari, founder and chief executive officer of The Z Link, tells Creatopy, “TikTok is also reaching a type of search engine status among Gen Z lately, which means that they use the app to look things up as they would on Google (i.e., fashion/beauty tips, product recommendations, explanations of current events).”

Given their comfort with tech, Gen Zers are avid online shoppers. Creatopy found that 70% of Generation Z had shopped online “always” or “usually” in the prior month. Social media is also where they turn to research, browse and compare products. In fact, the Creatopy survey shows, 85% learn about new products on social media. 

Interestingly, a 2020 study from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. shows that Gen Zers are more likely than millennials to shop in physical stores. This might be, in part, because of their age: Shopping is often a social activity for younger consumers. But even those visits to brick-and-mortar stores are informed by time spent online. “In a sense, members of Generation Z are always shopping, because they are always connected,” according to McKinsey. “They buy on any device and in any format or channel.”

Because of that, companies “should always think of ways to bridge the gap between online and offline to offer a unified experience,” according to The Center for Generational Kinetics.

Key takeaways

>> If your social media strategy leans heavily toward Facebook or Twitter, it’s time to make some shifts to Instagram, TikTok and other platforms more popular with younger shoppers.

>> Because of their comfort with tech and online shopping, Gen Z will likely be the group to drive the transition to in-app purchases on Instagram and other social media platforms. If you don’t have plans for offering in-app buying, now is the time to get them in place. 

>> Now is also the time to invest in augmented reality and virtual reality. This doesn’t necessarily mean apps that consumers must wear VR headsets to experience (although it might). 3D tools that allow users to virtually place mattress sets of different sizes and heights in their bedrooms and situate them on different bases also would appeal to Generation Z. Furniture stores are already having success with 3D room placement tools. Or consider adding live chat services: Consumers make appointments to shop, then connect to a video call so retail sales associates can tour them around the bedding showroom and answer questions.

Shopping for value — and values

Gen Zers are budget-conscious, seeking good value in terms of price. They also prefer to purchase from companies that they think align with their values (i.e., social, environmental).

Let’s look at how they approach spending money first.

With even some of the eldest Gen Zers still in school or in the early stages of their careers, they are much like other generations when they were at this same stage of life: not flush with cash. On top of that, Gen Zers watched their parents suffer during the Great Recession and they are still feeling some financial shocks related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A 2022 survey of Gen Z and millennials from global consultancy Deloitte demonstrates their money worries. The cost of living tops Generation Z’s list of general concerns (29%), followed by climate change (24%) and unemployment (20%). Nearly half of Gen Zers (46%) say they live paycheck to paycheck and regularly fear they won’t be able to cover their bills. Only a little over a quarter of Generation Z expects the economic situation to improve in the coming 12 months. (The quantitative Deloitte survey was conducted November 2021-January 2022 with follow-up qualitative questioning in April.)

This group is also concerned about broader economic issues, namely wealth inequality. Nearly three-quarters say the gap between rich and poor is widening, according to the Deloitte survey.

Given all this, it is no wonder that Generation Z is pragmatic when it comes to finances: “They value the stability that comes with conservative spending, stable jobs and smart investments,” says a 2021 generational overview from The Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.

Generation Z also is a socially conscious generation and, as careful spenders, they want to support companies that share their values.

“In much the same way that Gen Zers use social media as a means to curate their own personal brand, they also look at their purchasing decisions as an expression of their values and identity,” the Annie E. Casey Foundation says. “As an example, they are drawn to sustainable products and brands — and are often willing to pay more for them. They value personalized products, and they are drawn to brands who share their point of view on political issues.”

Gen Zers fall across the political spectrum but tend to be more left-leaning and liberal than older generations. According to the foundation, “even among Republicans, Gen Zers take a more progressive stand on social issues.”

In addition to their focus on environmental issues and sustainable practices, many Gen Zers support social justice issues, such as LGBTQ rights and racial equality. And they pay attention to how companies address those issues, according to a 2021 survey of Gen Z from Qualtrics XM Institute, a provider of customer experience management software and research-based in Provo, Utah.

Key takeaways

>> Retailers that want to reach Gen Zers might benefit from emphasizing the durability and other practical, life-enhancing features of mattresses — and to entice them with value pricing. The Center for Generational Kinetics study shows a third of Gen Zers wait to buy a product until it is on sale. Be careful not to structure sales, deals and promotions in a way that could come off as disingenuous. This is a generation that values authenticity. (More on that shortly.) 

>> Market to Generation Z throughout the buying journey. You’ll want to build your brand awareness to catch them at the right time. They are far less likely to impulse buy (19%) than to make a purchase when they’ve decided they need something (49%), according to that same survey.

>> This is a generation that will appreciate the bedding industry’s growing focus on creating sustainable products and circular economies, and reducing its environmental footprint. By touting those efforts and continuing to build on them, you’ll create loyalty among Generation Z. 

>> You might shy away from taking a public stand on some social issues, but there is likely a cause you already support that resonates with Generation Z. “When asked how they react to a brand or company that supports each cause, Gen Z feels significantly more respect for companies that support a wide variety of social causes compared to millennials,” according to The Center for Generational Kinetics. That study shows Gen Z most respects companies that support ending poverty and homelessness (51%), (fostering) racial equality (51%), stopping human trafficking (50%) and ending hunger (50%). 

Be true to yourself

When it comes to supporting certain issues it’s important to be authentic. As a 2021 report on both Generation Z and millennials from London-based Relative Insights warns: “Because Gen Z possesses the knowledge to spot fake communications, greenwashed marketing and unsubstantiated claims should be avoided at all costs.”

The need for authenticity extends to how Gen Zers evaluate products. Not surprisingly, this pragmatic group evaluates a number of options before buying. A big part of that process is reading reviews, testimonials and recommendations. 

But, unlike some older generations, they aren’t typically swayed by traditional celebrity endorsements. Instead, they trust verified “real-life users,” according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

“Digital natives consult their peers and read online reviews to find honest, unbiased information before purchasing products or services,” according to Chicago-based social media management firm Sprout Social in its recent “How to Reach Digital Natives on Social Media” report. 

In fact, authenticity is a core value of Gen Zers. This generation “sniffs out inauthenticity with ease,” according to a 2021 Gen Z study from Ernst & Young LLP, part of the EY global consulting and accounting firm. “They won’t overtly demand trust and transparency, but they will silently block a person or brand (literally and figuratively) from their lives and will have a distaste for anything that looks, feels or is, to them, ‘fake.’ ”

And keep them happy

Finally, a survey released in January 2022 from Qualtrics XM Institute finds that Generation Z demands a lot from companies.

“Members of Gen Z … are the most likely to be upset by a recent interaction with a company or organization, and are the least likely (of any generation) to recommend a brand,” according to the survey. “Gen Z has a high bar for speed and gratification, and right now it’s clear that most companies aren’t reaching it.”

In its survey, Qualtrics XM Institute found that, based on their most recent interaction with a company, Gen Zers gave lower satisfaction scores to every industry than other generations did.

Sprout Social has found similarly high standards among Generation Z. For instance, “poor customer service is the No. 1 reason digital natives will unfollow a brand on social,” it says in its report. On a more positive note, more than four out of 10 Gen Zers will choose a company that “delivers timely, responsive customer service over a competitor.”

“These savvy consumers are accustomed to instant service, and they will hold companies accountable for their values and service quality,” says Bruce Temkin, head of Qualtrics XM Institute. “… To win in 2022, organizations need to better understand and cater to the needs of these younger consumers.”