Has COVID-19 transformed Gen-Z forever?

Photo: @oleg_21 via Twenty20
Apr 17, 2020

Many members of Gen-Z, already struggling with adolescence, now have to add COVID-19 to the mix.

According to survey of U.S. teenagers (13-17) from Common Sense Media taken between March 14 and April 1:

  • Eighty percent are following news about the coronavirus closely;
  • Eighty-one percent have stopped attending public events or visiting places such as restaurants, movie theaters or concert venues; 68 percent have stopped meeting with close friends in person; and 37 percent have reached out to a friend or family member they haven’t talked to in a while;
  • Sixty-one percent are worried they or someone in their family will be exposed to the virus;
  • Sixty-three percent are worried about the effect COVID-19 will have on their family’s ability to make a living or earn money;
  • Forty-two percent said that they feel “more lonely than usual.”

DoSomething.org, a digital platform that encourages social change among youth, found in a survey of its members between the ages of 13 to 25 released April 9 that 47.9 percent were deeply missing being able to hang out with their friends in-person, up from 40 percent three weeks ago.

Gen-Z currently ranges in age from roughly seven to 22. COVID-19’s fallout is believed to be particularly tough on the teenage portion that is missing out on coming-of-age moments, such as proms, sports participation, graduation and heading to college. Slightly older ones feel they’re missing career opportunities, from dream internships to first jobs.

“Many Zs said they’re questioning and rethinking their standards for success, and what’s possible for them to achieve in their lives,” Ben Harms, director of insights and strategy at Archrival, which also conducted a survey of Gen-Zers, told Teen Vogue.

Although the group might feel comfortable with FaceTime, Zoom and other digital tools, that isn’t seen as enough to offset the loss of physical connections with friends at school and elsewhere. Indeed, the internet is full of advice columns on how to help teenagers cope with stay-at-home mandates.

“Teenagers and college students have amplified innate, developmental motivations that make them hard to isolate at home,” wrote Christine L. Carter in Psychology Today.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you see COVID-19 affecting the Gen-Z consumer, particularly teenagers and young adults, in the near term? How might their long-term purchasing behavior change as a result of this experience?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Will this impact behavior? Of course. But not just for one generation – it will be for all of us."
"Seeing parents lose jobs, having internships and summer jobs canceled and more is likely to make Gen-Z spend more conservatively in the future."
"A more far reaching impact is Gen-Z’s perception that the older generations have made a mess of running the country and the world."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Has COVID-19 transformed Gen-Z forever?"

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Mark Ryski

Compared to how this is impacting seniors in care centers, I think that Gen-Z’s concerns are pretty minor. As a parent, I am sympathetic to how Gen-Zs may be feeling, however COVID-19 is affecting everyone. In terms of purchasing behavior, I think the biggest factor for Gen-Zs will be having disposable income. In some way, COVID-19 is impacting consumer behavior across the board — how this plays out in the long term for Gen-Zs (and the rest of us) will depend on how protracted the pandemic is.

Jeff Weidauer

I’m not a supporter of the whole generational divide; I don’t think you can group 80 million people in any meaningful way. COVID-19 has impacted all of us, regardless of age or generational cohort, and will continue to do so. Will this impact behavior? Of course. But not just for one generation – it will be for all of us.

Georganne Bender

COVID-19 will transform Gen-Z the way September 11 transformed Millennials. Kids are resilient, they will be OK.

This pandemic is transforming everyone; kids can’t go to school, we can’t go to work, and we all miss social contact. My hope is that when this is over we come out better people than we were going in. Maybe a little poorer, and probably a lot bigger, but better.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
2 years 1 month ago

I have read that not being able to interact is a big deal among Gen-Zers. There is a lot of depression as well because of it. I think this group was already savvy with the tech (face-time, Instagram and the like), but they really crave the social interaction they are used to. What we do now in regards to social distancing, wearing masks, etc., will be the norm for a very long time into the future.

Paula Rosenblum

I think Milennials, Gen Z and, ultimately, the children of Millennials (Gen C) will be changed permanently. My parents’ generation was changed by the Great Depression. This will have a permanent impact.

Gregory Osborne

The forced adoption of newer technologies like online education platforms for middle-school students also forces consumers through difficult learning curves. Gen-Z, already tech savvy, is becoming even more so as they move along these learning curves. This will have lasting effects on consumer behavior: to continue the education example, I’ll be interested to see the proportion of Gen-Z that engages in online higher education.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

A more far reaching impact is Gen-Z’s perception that the older generations have made a mess of running the country and the world. Their future opportunities are more limited than prior generations, the planet is becoming less hospitable to species and fauna, politicians are primarily concerned with their own re-elections, Wall Street is providing the only measuring stick considered legitimate in assessing success and sense of identity; so much so, that we’ve institutionalized privatizing profits and socializing losses. Gen-Z has a deep distrust of the adults in the room and the existing track record, that is the biggest challenge and transformation we are facing. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, I expect greater demands by this generation for transparency and accountability in terms of health, safety, and the wellness of the planet. The brands that live up to and promote this higher calling will accrue much greater benefits.

Ralph Jacobson

I think it’s too early to tell the long-term effects of COVID-19 on society of all ages, and whatever the effects/shopping habits, etc. are, I still believe it is inaccurate for retailers and brands to treat all individuals within a demographic the same. There are far too many tools available to identify personalized shopping trends and create the offers based upon the individual, rather than the demographic. I get anxious when we lump people together, even these rotten Gen-Z kids. 😉

Shep Hyken

Major events leave a lasting impact on people. Consider the Great Depression, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, 9/11 and other world events that left an impression on the teenagers and young adults. These events form opinions, beliefs, habits and more. It’s no different for COVID-19. Young people will see their parents and friends’ parents struggling with income due to businesses closings and job losses. Some may experience the opposite if their parents are in a business that stays open. The people they hang around will be optimistic, pessimistic or indifferent, and that will impact their opinions/beliefs. The parents of these kids will have as much, if not more, impact on them. These are the people they respect. As for buying behaviors, I believe the issue isn’t about just one group of consumers. It’s all consumers. When the economy opens up, brands will be pushing a new kind of message; one that gets their customers back into their stores. It won’t be “marketing as usual.”

Gene Detroyer
Let’s go back to our own high school years. Those were the years that we were starting to “come of age.” The years we were starting to step out from our parents’ domain. Those are the years when our friends and classmates were more important emotionally than our family. Now this is taken away. This situation would have been extremely difficult for me back then. The answer is not “just do it” or “stay tough.” How difficult would it have been for me? Devastating! I can’t imagine it would be more difficult for any other age group. Those other age groups have been through difficult situations and have learned, in this case, how to “just do it” or “stay tough.” This is blip in terms of life’s challenges. To a high schooler, this is life. In regard to purchasing behavior, there are two factors. Are their parents going to go through Great Depression-era challenges? What is going to be their economic situation when they come out of this? What I hope is that they see… Read more »
Lisa Goller
Those heartbreaking figures suggest Gen-Zs will suffer from more sadness, anxiety and silos. Even in the past decade’s strong economy, Gen-Zs grew up seeing Millennials compete over few full-time jobs while beholden to deep student debt. Gen-Zs’ own outlook seems even bleaker. Given the dearth of healthy, natural norms (in-person interactions and milestones like graduation) Gen Zs may change their consumption habits over the long term to satisfy their needs, including: Safety and security: They may invest more in their mental health, including goods that promote comfort and self-care. Prudent money management: This cohort will be more value conscious due to the pandemic. Having less disposable income in a declining economy makes nice-to-have items and luxuries now seem indulgent, especially if Gen-Z want to save for rent or a home. Belonging: Since Gen-Zs likely spend even more time online now to stay connected to peers, they may be even more influenced by their communities’ word-of-mouth, product recommendations and reviews. Notably, some Gen-Zs may feel the need to press pause on their ideals for practicality. While… Read more »
Rich Kizer

Gen-Z and many Boomers especially and dare I say all of the rest of us will find that what they perceived as stable can be shaken quickly. Lessons come from such events as the Great Depression and 9/11 and now COVID–19. Skepticism grows in all aspects of our lives. Younger generations will look and ask if older generations really have all the answers. This all makes a perfect platform for self-reliance. I think that will be the biggest resulting impact.

Michael La Kier

It’s too early to say, but being shut in for key periods of development (high school, college, etc.) will certainly shape how they live their lives in the future. Gen-Z are tech-savvy from birth and are the true digital natives with an average “eight-second filter” to gauge whether something is worth their attention. Seeing parents lose jobs, having internships and summer jobs canceled and more is likely to make Gen-Z spend more conservatively in the future.

Heidi Sax

It’s hard to predict based on the findings in this study alone, without having compared Gen-Z’s answers to those of Millennials, Gen X-ers, and up. We’re all struggling. I would posit, as others have, that they may be more cautious about spending. Influencer marketing and celebrity may become a less powerful lever to activate this audience in the wake of this.

Mark Heckman

Much of the longer term behavioral changes will heavily depend upon how well we can extinguish this virus, either through anti-virals and ultimately a vaccine. While I understand this younger group may be “imprinted” to some extent by their recent social distancing experiences, I also believe they will be resilient, given they are already very comfortable in using technology to shop and socialize, if necessary.

While I may be a contrarian on the topic, I believe shopping behavioral changes among this group and others for that matter, may be driven more by the economy and their job situation than by the effects of the virus itself. If my thesis is true, there could be some residual cost containment and frugality among this group going forward as we attempt to regain our economic footing.

Cynthia Holcomb

I am the parent of the class of 2020. In conversations about missing a host of senior events and also possibly missing her in-person fall term freshman year at college, my daughter knows she is missing key life events, events we have talked about for years. Her opinion is the class of 2020 will invent their own new experiences. While I reminisce about college life, she looks forward to her own special college experiences under our new global reality. Her comment: “We cannot miss what we never experienced.”

Craig Sundstrom

Hey, let’s ask them … (crickets)…OK, given RW’s audience, probably not, so we’ll have to speculate (hopefully leaving behind the shallow stereotypes all-too-often employed in talking about youth).

First, like all of us they have a personal situation they’re dealing with. If one or both of the parents are unemployed, there may be a very real day-to-day economic concern. If one is a high school senior, the whole (final) year had been upended, as have plans for those who are — were? — college bound. It’s not the worst thing possible, but it’s a lot. For college seniors and recent grads, there is obviously the (near) complete collapse of the economy. Those just starting out probably have very little beyond family to fall back on.

The Great Depression left a whole generation of people traumatized. If this leads to something similar, it’s not hard to imagine that being repeated.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

People of all ages will be impacted in some way. There is a whole range of factors that will determine the extent of impact to individuals, based on their circumstances. I expect more lasting change to occur around our healthcare system, care homes, hourly workers and how we “socialize.”

"Will this impact behavior? Of course. But not just for one generation – it will be for all of us."
"Seeing parents lose jobs, having internships and summer jobs canceled and more is likely to make Gen-Z spend more conservatively in the future."
"A more far reaching impact is Gen-Z’s perception that the older generations have made a mess of running the country and the world."

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