Socially responsible, technologically savvy and well informed, Gen Z consumers are increasingly making their presence felt in the global market. Catering to this growing consumer force requires novel approaches in jewellery sales and marketing.
Alba Cappellieri, director of Vicenza Museum of Jewellery
Ben Varquez, managing director of Youth Marketing Connection
This article first appeared in the JNA May/ June 2021 issue.
By all indications, Gen Z is emerging as a pivotal consumer force across most markets. In any case, they are most certainly the consumer of the future. Bold, principled and outspoken, this generation is changing the rules of sales and marketing with their demands, priorities and preferences.
Born roughly between 1996 and 2010, Gen Z consumers are the demographic cohort that follows Millennials. They are the children of Generation Xers and thus can also exert some influence on the latter’s purchasing habits. But while their parents place a premium on value, their biggest assets are information and technology. Ben Varquez, managing director of digital consultancy firm Youth Marketing Connection, described Gen Z as a generation that not only grew up with social media but for whom gaming is completely mainstream today. This market segment comprises sub-genres and sub-cultures to support large communities of interest, he noted.
“Millennial and Gen Z consumers differ in their attitudes, beliefs and values. They communicate in different manners across different channels, and they use some of the same platforms in vastly different ways. Current Millennials are in completely different life stages than your average Gen Z's. Both value authenticity, but while Millennials appreciate it, Gen Z demands it,” revealed Varquez.
Pernille Kok-Jensen, director of Cultural Insights at Amsterdam-based boutique marketing agency Fitzroy Communications, agreed.
“Gen Z is hyperconnected. However, they use this connectivity differently from Millennials, who are sometimes called the Burn-Out generation for their constant need to do everything perfectly. Gen Z is far more pragmatic. They are also unapologetic, raw and real. They embrace the ugly and being weird. They are all about being real,” she revealed.
As the jewellery industry still tries to comprehend what inclusivity and diversity mean, Gen Z may already expect it to embrace these without compromises.
Vicenza Museum of Jewellery Director Alba Cappellieri, who is also director of the Master in Jewellery and Fashion Accessories programme at Politecnico di Milano, sees this in her students. “Never in my career have I seen such seriousness and commitment to pursuing ethical values through fashion design,” she disclosed. “This is bound to have an impact on the industry. Companies will have to rethink their business models and values if they want to align with new consumer trends, or they will be cut out of the game.”
Gen Z’s fascination with technology, sustainability and authenticity warrants novel approaches to customer engagement. Traditional marketing that worked before is no longer relevant, according to Varquez.
For Gen Z, TV is content streaming; radio is music streaming and podcasts; malls are marketplace apps; and influencers are normal people, he pointed out.
Nina Schipper, a Gen Z herself, works as a product and design manager for a small fashion company called TessV, which sells only through Instagram.
Her generation is all about honesty, she enthused. “Reach out to us through social media. We are online 24/7,” she shared.
When asked to reveal her favourite jewellery brands, her selections reflect her and her generation’s personal philosophy. Vedder & Vedder, a Dutch brand of personalised jewellery, tops her list due to its ability to capture individual narratives in its pieces. Anna Sheffield Fine Jewellery is another pick for its sustainable values and vintage looks.
Varquez divulged, “It all starts with the story. The Gen Z consumer wants to know your reason for existing. Have a purpose, align with their values, and figure out why you should exist in their world by understanding their mindset and perspective.”
As this generation lives with the existential fear of climate change, feels deeply involved in social justice moments, and sees rising income inequality as one of the biggest threats to democracy, it values trust and honesty profoundly, he continued.
Cappellieri noticed this too. Gen Z consumers are extremely critical of the corporate world and conscious about the impact of their consumption, she noted.
“They are a rather informed consumer: Buying value, meaning and products that represent their ideals. This includes socially fair supply chains, environmentally friendly materials and processes, and brands that care about the same things they value,” she remarked. “Gen Z is tired of overly polished campaigns and high-budget productions. They look for authenticity, approachability and honesty. They are more attracted to spontaneous, lighthearted and relatable content.”
Gen Z is indeed a discerning lot – they filter all the information they gather. They do not buy into what a brand says about itself unless it shows facts supporting values, story and purpose.
According to Kok-Jensen, Fitzroy Communications, whose clients include Doritos, Quaker and Playstation, distinguishes between three Gen Z mindsets – Fluid, Fragile and Fierce.
Fluid consumers are volatile and embrace the phygital or physical/digital world. They prefer no-friction experience, seeking instant gratification. They pay with voice and buy on social media.
Open and adaptable, they eschew traditional confines. Their acceptance of gender fluidity sees men embracing jewellery. Fluidity extends to innovative combinations, from functional and smart jewellery to handmade and organic looks, and analogue/digital mesh ups. Misho’s brand of sculptural, functional jewellery embodies this concept.
Consumers in the Fragile mindset suffer from ‘infobesity’ and look to nature to reconnect with themselves. They seek tangible experiences such as multisensorial jewellery, calming motifs and soothing experiences. This group responds to organic and basic designs with a twist such as jewellery that represents nature but worn perhaps on a shoulder.
Privacy is a major concern hence bejewelled representations resonate with such consumers. Ewa Nowak’s jewellery that attempts to prevent AI facial recognition addresses this, while Esmay Wageman’s body jewellery that removes all sense of privacy reflects the other extreme.
Fierce Gen Z consumers are social activists who are upset with the state of the planet and are willing to take a stand. They expect a brand’s story to reveal how it contributes to a better world. Realistic and pragmatic, they respond to honesty.
Brands should involve these consumers in what they do and make them part of the solution. This particular group tends to gravitate toward second-hand gold, charms with messages as well as meaningful items. They are open too to renting vintage pieces instead of buying them outright.
Tapping the market
Gen Z and their ideals offer tremendous opportunities for the world of jewellery. One way to clearly stand out is through story and value.
Cappellieri said, “We are now living in a particular moment in history, in which the contexts of sociability and the type of occasions of use have changed. Physical interaction with others has diminished, becoming predominantly digital. This cannot fail to have repercussions on aesthetics and the type of products we purchase.”
Varquez urged jewellery companies to look beyond the traditional when tapping the Gen Z crowd. “Create brand awareness through partnerships in gaming, social causes and the like. Look also at entry-point items – branded lifestyle items outside of typical jewellery offerings,” he recommended.