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How Gen Z’s Diverse Shoppers Will Spend This Back-to-School Season

Retailers that offer an assortment of apparel that underscores inclusivity may find themselves in higher demand this back-to-school season, especially with young, racially and ethnically diverse Gen Z consumers.

A recent joint study from Rue21 and market research firm CulturIntel analyzed 13.2 million social conversations and surveyed 5.2 million of the brand’s loyalty customers, gleaning specific data about young shoppers’ product choices and desire to browse and buy in store and online.

For starters, 43 percent of Gen Z is considered multicultural, making these consumers the most diverse age demographic in the country. What’s more, this cohort is expected to grow by 22 percent over the next five years.

CulturIntel’s analysis revealed that Black and Hispanic consumers are apt to care more about fashion that allows them to project their values (27 percent) than their white counterparts (21 percent), though each group has different purchase motivators. Hispanic Gen Zers gravitate to footwear and apparel that makes them feel a sense of belonging, reinforcing their place in the culture at large, while young Black shoppers want to see fashion make a social impact. This sentiment appears to have shifted over the past year, as just 8 percent of Black Gen Z shoppers surveyed by CulturIntel in 2019 around New York Fashion Week said that they saw fashion as a way to make a social impact on peers.

For Gen Z shoppers as a whole, being trendy is viewed as a top priority (41 percent) over being eclectic or unique (32 percent), the survey indicated. “Personal uniqueness” is disproportionately more important to multicultural young shoppers (27 percent) than to the group as a whole (18 percent).

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“That data has been flipped over the course of the pandemic and subsequent social movements; Black Gen Zers top fashion motivator is to impact people,” said CulturIntel co-founder Lili Gil Valletta. “It’s clear that the pandemic and corresponding social movements of 2020 have ignited a stronger sense of identity in multicultural youths.”

“Our research took into account the intent and cultural context of the multicultural Gen Z digital voice, to not only understand what this demographic is saying but ‘why’ they are saying it,” she added. “The diverse Gen Z customer is leading the fashion movement and they have increased buying power—brands need to pay closer attention.”

Rue21’s data revealed still more insights about the consumer group and its purchasing habits. The retailer found that young shoppers plan to spend 36 percent more on back-to-school buys than they did in 2020, and multicultural shoppers plan to spend much more than their white counterparts.

Well over half of Black (53 percent) and Hispanic (52 percent) Gen Z survey subjects said they planned to spend more on duds for the fall semester than they did in the year-ago period, 17 percent and 16 percent higher, respectively, than the generational cohort as a whole.

The influence of e-commerce also appears to be waning for socially inclined young shoppers, who are eager to get back to the stores. Forty-five percent said they would shop more at physical locations than they did last year, while 60 percent of Hispanic consumers said they planned to visit brick-and-mortar boutiques and department stores with greater frequency. Notably, 37 percent of the overall group said they would shop less on the web this year. Top prospective purchase items include jeans (80 percent) and screen-printed T-shirts (72 percent).

“Forty-percent of our customers are multicultural, and we’ve built an inclusive brand that takes the time and effort to truly know our customer and meet the fashion desires of the most multicultural generation in history,” Rue21 CEO Bill Brand said. “This customer wants to curate their own look in a way that is unique, on-trend and impactful for their peers.”