2020 Gen Z Holiday Shopping Forecast & Insights

By Barnes & Noble College

COVID-19 has not put a damper on Gen Z college students’ holiday spirit and spending plans. As we prepare to close out 2020, our research shows that there are some bright spots ahead for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Barnes & Noble College is sharing the following insights to help brands achieve strong holiday activations with 18-to-24-year old college students.

38% of 18

Gen Z consumers will spend THOUGHTFULLY this holiday.

While 83% of all age groups expect to spend the same amount on holiday gifts as they did in 2019, 38% of 18-to-24-year old Gen Z consumers expect to increase their holiday spending over last year1.

In 2020, Gen Z college students will be spending the same or more on holiday gifts over last year. What’s different is that this year they’re spending thoughtfully as they consider purchases for family, friends, and even themselves. They want value and will actively search for deals and incentives and will take time to read reviews before they buy.

We expect them to opt for traditional holiday gifts as well as pampering gifts (think beauty treatments) and comfortable, yet stylish clothes that will do double-duty for remote learning and ventures out of home. We also expect Gen Z to add COVID-inspired gifts in the safety and entertainment categories to their shopping lists.

College students have already "gifted" these items to themselves. They may also give to hose on their holiday list.

Gen Z consumers will discover brands and shop online for Holiday 2020.

63% of college students research brands online and 58% find out about brands on social media.1
74% of 18-to-25 year old consumers plan to do all or some of their holiday shopping online.
Gen Z's go-to social media platforms for brand discovery

Understandably so, Gen Z is spending more and more time online and that’s where the majority of brand discovery happens. Stay-at-home has made online the go-to shopping mode. Savvy brands will figure out how to transfer the excitement of in-person shopping online , and if possible, do it in time for the upcoming holiday season. These young college consumers will continue to follow brands if they have a personal interest in the product, like the type or style of content, like the brand personality, and find discounts, coupons and giveaways.

Gen Z consumers will shop and pick up in-store.

65% of Gen Z students feel comfortable shopping in-person.1
41% plan to BOPUS (Buy Online and Pick Up In Store) for their holiday shopping.

Although they’ll be browsing and shopping online, they certainly haven’t ruled out brick and mortar retailers as they shop for gifts this year. They want brands and retailers to consistently take protective measures for customers and employees, an expectation that will likely live on for some time. They want stores to mandate mask wearing, enforce social distancing and practice consistent sanitation.

Gen Z will start shopping sooner this holiday.

59% of all consumers will have already started their holiday shopping by November 1st.
47% are concerned about late delivery this holiday season.

We believe Gen Z will align with this national trend of early shopping which is likely due to concerns about out-of-stocks, shipping delays, and for in-store retailers, reduced hours. In fact, many have started shopping already with the bulk of these consumers expecting to start before the beginning of November.

Gen Z will gravitate towards brands that show compassion and care.

This consumer group wants brands that share their values. Translated, that means treating employees and the community with compassion and doing their part to make the world and their working environment a safer place.

Your brand should act now to build flexible programs since this holiday season has a high degree of unpredictability. Implementing these tactics will help your brand boost your Gen Z college consumer activations.

  1. Deliver Value
    Remember that Gen Z is opening their wallets for purposeful spending and they want value. Tie messaging and promotions to what they are buying and stay on top of changing preferences. Offer tailored promos and special college student incentives. Free samples and gifts with purchase will help drive sales now and induce trial after the holidays are over.
  2. Make Online Fun and Exciting
    Pull out all the stops to bring emotion to life in a meaningful way in the online world. The emotion and intensity that was delivered in-store must now become part of the digital shopping experience. Personalize to the extent that you can, and you’ll see engagement rates soar.
  3. Optimize the Omnichannel Experience
    Continuously enhance the innovation and convenience measures that you introduced during the pandemic. For example, improve the BOPUS process. How can in-store pick-up be more convenient, safer, and quicker? Make pick-up lockers, kiosks, and staffed counters easy to find and efficient.Beef up customer service and sales support for increased holiday activity. If you don’t already have it, add a digital assistant and chat function to your site.Improve visibility into your inventory and give consumers an option to be notified when the items on the list become available.
  4. Redesign Retail
    Gen Z consumers are becoming more comfortable shopping at retail, but brands must continue to make safety for customers and employees a priority. Make it easy for consumers to move through stores, even as traffic increases. Utilize kiosks and displays that are easy to find and user friendly.
Gen Z College Marketing Experts

1 Barnes & Noble College Proprietary Research

Get Started

Create experiences that drive brand awareness and acquire new customers for your brand.

Partner With Us