Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z represents about 20% of the US population as of 2023, per the US Census Bureau. In 2021, Bloomberg cited data from Gen Z Planet estimating the cohort had $360 billion in buying/spending power, a number which has most certainly grown as more and more Gen Zers join the workforce. 

In this guide, we explore what Gen Z cares about, where they spend their time online, and how they shop so marketers can reach this valuable target audience. We also delve into their banking and payment habits and how they’re shaping the financial services industry

Gen Z (or Generation Z) grew up with rapid digital changes. As teens, Gen Zers experienced the boom of smartphones, wearables, and virtual assistants, among other disruptive tech. This immersion makes them open to integrating new technology into their lives.

  • Gen Z is already using AI in their daily lives. Some 61% have positive attitudes toward AI-generated content on social media, according to EMARKETER’s July 2023 US Gen Z Social Media survey featured in the US Digital Habits by Generation report. They see AI as a handy tool for simplifying tasks like essay editing, checking code, and travel planning.
  • They’ve also embraced the overlap between media and technology, using multifunctional devices that promote simultaneous use, which makes what Gen Zers consume more important than where, per EMARKETER’s Gen Z Technology and Media Preferences report. 

Gen Z consumers have strong opinions about the world they live in—and they aren’t afraid to voice them. Gen Zers are known for their social responsibility, dedication to social and political issues, and their demand for authenticity when it comes to brands and advertising. 

  • 53% of US Gen Zers want brands they shop at to support mental health, more than any other cause, according to a survey from ICSC and Big Village. Environmental causes (including climate change and sustainability) and racial and gender equity tied for second place with 47% each.
  • Gen Z also wants brands to support LGBTQ+ rights (like same-sex marriage) and political activism, per ICSC and Big Village. 
  • However, while Gen Zers do care about the environment, they are also mostly teens or young adults and have to be choosy with how they spend their money
  • “We have to care, because we’re the ones that are going to be here for the next 70 or so years. We’re going to reap the benefits—and possible consequences—[of our actions now],” said Gen Z panelist Clay Lute during a June 2023 CommerceNext event in New York City. “But when it comes to a budget … we don’t have the money that some of the other generations have.”

Gen Z’s interest in sustainability has contributed to growing resale volumes (which EMARKETER forecasts will reach $108.64 billion in 2024), particularly when it comes to fashion

  • 61% of Gen Z shoppers will they look for an item secondhand before buying it new, per thredUP’s second annual Impact Report.
  • Over half of Gen Z shoppers are more likely to shop with a brand that offers secondhand apparel and new items.
  • Fashion online resale platform sales will total $13.68 billion in 2024, per a December 2023 EMARKETER forecast, thanks in part to Gen Z’s interest in platforms like The RealReal or Poshmark.

Gen Z marketing: Where does Gen Z spend time online?

Gen Z has fully embraced the blending of media and technology, which is explored in EMARKETER’s Gen Z Technology and Media Preferences report. The seamless connectivity between devices allows Gen Zers to engage in multiple activities simultaneously, making what they consume more important than where they consume it. 

Gen Zers are more likely to cite streaming video, streaming music, and playing video games as daily activities compared with the general adult population, per a May 2023 Morning Consult survey. They’re also less interested in traditional TV and listening to the radio.

  • Roughly 94% of Gen Z will stream video in 2023, per an EMARKETER forecast, with YouTube and Netflix as the top free and paid platforms, respectively.
  • Podcasts are also gaining popularity among Gen Zers, with podcast listening projected to rise significantly by 2027. 
  • Gen Z is all about gaming, showing higher engagement rates compared with previous generations. This generation’s media habits reflect a clear shift toward digital experiences and interactive content.

However, having endless options for entertainment at their fingertips has also impacted attention spans.

What’s the role of social media in Gen Z’s lives? 

Social media is Gen Z’s primary outlet for sharing thoughts, seeking recommendations, and staying informed about current events. 

Instagram is the top choice for direct messaging among Gen Z users, according to EMARKETER’s July 2023 survey of US teens and adults ages 15 to 26, per EMARKETER’s Gen Z Social Media Preferences report. 

In addition to direct messaging, Gen Zers also favor Instagram for Stories, making it their primary social media platform for this feature. However, marketers shouldn’t overlook TikTok, as nearly half of Stories viewers reported watching them on TikTok in the past month.

For short-form video content, TikTok remains the preferred platform among Gen Z, with a majority of respondents indicating it as their go-to for short videos on social media. 

  • However, nearly half of respondents also reported viewing short videos on Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, signaling their preference for engaging with various platforms.
  • But when it comes to long-form video content, YouTube claims the top spot among Gen Zers. TikTok is gaining traction, with the platform even beginning to test 15-minute videos. 

When it comes to livestreaming (i.e., the real-time broadcasting of audio and/or video content over the internet for an audience to watch as it happens), Gen Z chooses TikTok over Instagram, although YouTube remains the ultimate leader in this arena.

Across all platforms, authenticity is key to engaging with Gen Z.

  • “Gen Z is definitely very direct,” said Megan Brophy, vice president of marketing at Abercrombie & Fitch, speaking at The Lead Innovation Summit in July 2023. “They’re very transparent. They want realness. They want authenticity.” Advertising for Gen Z can be “messy” and “chaotic” as a result, according to Brophy.
  • She noted that Abercrombie & Fitch’s approach to influencer marketing is finding creators that already wear Abercrombie apparel, which appeals to Gen Z’s desire to see real people giving them recommendations. 

How do Gen Z consumers discover and buy products?

Social media and influencer marketing play a major role in Gen Z’s purchasing journey, but more traditional channels like in-store and ecommerce are also shaping how they buy, per EMARKETER’s Gen Z’s Path to Purchase report. 

  • Social media plays an important role in discovery, particularly when it comes to beauty, clothing, and health and personal care products, EMARKETER’s survey found. However, they also discover products by shopping in-store and talking to friends and family.
  • Gen Z’s favorite social networks for shopping discovery are TikTok and Instagram. Gen Zers usually watch videos and engage with influencer content creations to find new products and brands.
  • Gen Z shoppers are more likely to discover new items directly on brand websites than older shoppers, but less likely to find products via third-party retail websites and apps.
  • Gen Zers are more cautious with their purchase decisions and are less likely to make impulse purchases than older generations. 
  • Despite the influence of digital, Gen Zers are still making purchases in-store, even in categories where social plays an outsized role in discovery. 
  • TikTok and Instagram are the most popular platforms for social commerce, according to EMARKETER’s July 2023 US Gen Z Social Media survey, as they offer convenient access to user reviews and comments.

How is Gen Z shaping the banking and financial services landscape? 

By 2027, 97.0% of Gen Zers will be mobile banking users, the highest proportion across all generations, per EMARKETER’s April 2023 forecast. To capture Gen Z customers, banks need to understand how the demographic differs from older generations. 

In reaching Gen Z, social media (both paid and organic) proves more impactful than traditional advertising for raising awareness of bank products, per EMARKETER’s US Banking Consumer Habits 2023 report.

  • Gen Zers assign little value to most forms of ads, yet they are the most inclined generation to utilize social media for bank research, with 38.1% engaging compared with the cross-generational average of 22.1%, per EMARKETER’s November 2023 US Banking Consumer Habits survey.
  • During the consideration phase, banks find themselves competing with user-generated content on social media for Gen Z’s attention. 
  • Approximately 22% of Gen Zers regard influencer content as their most trusted source of banking-related information on social platforms—matching the proportion who trust banking ads the most.

Building trust is essential to attract Gen Z customers, but banks cannot afford to assume it. 

  • A majority (52.5%) of Gen Zers state that they would opt for a trusted brand when selecting a new banking product or service, with only 15.8% willing to explore other options. 
  • However, the proportion of Gen Zers who regard their current bank as the top provider they’d choose based on trust alone is notably lower than that of consumers overall.

Gen Zers may be interested in experimenting with new payment options, but traditional card-based payments still play a major role in how they make purchases, per EMARKETER’s Gen Z Consumer Payment Habits report. To appeal to Gen Z’s spending habits, providers need to offer payment options that match their preferences.

  • Nearly 20 million Gen Zers will adopt proximity mobile payments by 2027, hitting 46.2 million and surpassing millennial users, per EMARKETER’s forecast. 
  • Still, traditional card-based methods continue to power Gen Z payments. Debit, in particular, debit was cited by 57.2% of Gen Z consumers as their preferred payment method, per the Federal Reserve. 

Gen Z’s early embrace of mobile wallets will drive the technology’s overall adoption. 

  • By 2027, 72.1% of US smartphone users will be mobile wallet users, per EMARKETER’s forecast. 
  • But Gen Zers are higher adoptors: 84.5% made a payment using their phone in 2021, according to the Federal Reserve.

Gen Zers are also ahead of the curve on buy now, pay later (BNPL)

  • While a third (31.3%) of US consumers will be active users in 2023, Gen Z will lead the pack at 46.7%. 
  • But to realize BNPL’s full potential, providers must get Gen Z to use the service in-store. By the end of 2026, brick-and-mortar will still account for $4 of every $5 spent in retail, per EMARKETER’s forecast.

What generation is after Gen Z?

Gen Alpha is the generation after Gen Z. Per EMARKETER’s Gen Alpha guide: Gen Alpha is the first generation born entirely in the 21st century. The number of Gen Alphas is expected to reach 2.2 billion worldwide by the end of 2024, according to marketing agency Razorfish. By 2025, there will be more Gen Alphas than baby boomers. Many believe Gen Alpha will be the largest generation. In the US, the estimated 45.6 million children that make up Gen Alpha are already more diverse than the general population.

Defining the generations: What are the other age cohorts? 

  • Gen Alpha: Born between the early 2010s and 2024. The second generation of digital natives, Gen Alphas have never been without smartphones or social media. They are drawn to authenticity, interactivity, and gamification. 
  • Zalpha: Someone born on the cusp of Gen Alpha and Gen Z that shares traits of both generations. 
  • Gen Z: Born between 1997 and 2012. A socially conscious generation that prioritizes mental health, sustainability, and racial equity, while shaping consumer habits with a tech-savvy approach. 
  • Zillennial: Someone born on the cusp of Gen Z and millennials that shares traits of both generations.
  • Millennial (Gen Y): Born between 1981 and 1996. Millennials grew up during the dawn of the internet and have quickly embraced technologies like social media and smartphones. Millennial consumers are drawn to ease and convenience. 
  • Gen X: Born between 1965 and 1980. They are characterized by their independence, skepticism toward authority, affinity for technology, and preference for authenticity in brands and marketing messages.
  • Baby boomer: Born between 1946 and 1964. They have a strong work ethic, traditional values, brand loyalty, and significant influence on consumer trends and societal norms.



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