The direction and future of retail rest in the hands and pocketbooks of millennials and Gen Z. That’s the conclusion of a September 28 podcast involving two senior members of global research firm McKinsey.

Gen Zers, according to Bo Finnerman, a partner in McKinsey’s Miami office, are today’s lead influencers. Although he didn’t expect them to peak in population for another ten years, Finnerman said they’re already making a huge impact on Gen Xers and millennials’ buying habits.

Emma Spagnuolo, an associate McKinsey partner in New Jersey, said Gen Zers influence their Gen X parents in two ways. One is by Gen Zers guiding conversations with their parents to get what they want. The other is Gen X’s vulnerability in being influenced at the dinner table.

Shifting Values

The major reason researchers see millennials and Gen Zers leading a shift in buying habits is in their values. Finnerman attributed that to what he referred to as a “real authenticity” in how Gen Z views corporate responsibility. He added that one of the biggest things to come out of their research in the last few years focused on corporate values, mission, and purpose. Spagnuolo said she noticed the trend starting two years ago with millennials, which were then adopted and accelerated by Gen Z.

Price or Societal Value?

Questioning moved to values and sustainability. When asked whether Gen Z was willing to pay more for items like sustainable goods, Finnerman said he’d seen a major shift in how consumers, particularly Gen Z, view purchases multidimensionally and not just by price.

Luxury Items

Contrary to what some believe, Gen Z loves products that set them apart, even luxury items. The difference, said Spagnuolo, is that they don’t necessarily seek name brands as unique products. On the other hand, she said millennials and Gen Zers differ a bit on this topic. She found that millennials are more driven to show off their luxury items. Both generations, however, agree that they’re willing to pay higher prices for luxury goods.

In-Store Versus Digital

Contrary to some earlier reports, Spagnuolo said she’d seen Gen Z using all formats to shop, including an increased interest in brick and mortar stores. She said many browse online and then go into the store to see and feel the merchandise they’re interested in. She did agree that millennials are migrating to more online shopping.


Brands using celebrity influencers also need to know that their power over Gen Z is not very strong. Spagnuolo reported that that generation trusts them less and leans more to micro-influencers. Finnerman added that while Gen Z is on social media a lot, they also tend to filter such endorsements and pay more attention to word of mouth. He said this makes brands’ emotional connection with customers even more important.

Smaller versus Larger

Another interesting discovery was that smaller brands appear to be capturing a larger share of growth than big brands. Finnerman said their research shows this trend, especially popular among Gen Zers, who want to see, experience, and try innovative and exciting products.


Although Gen Z cares more about sustainability than millennials, Spagnuolo said they’d noticed a growing interest and concern from millennials over four years of tracking. She said they expect the trend to continue.

Multi-brand or Single Brand?

Based on their research, Spagnuolo said they hadn’t seen much difference in buyer preferences. She revealed that Gen Z is not only shopping frequently but doing more so than other generations.


There’s a seismic change beyond pricing occurring in customers and affecting a growing number of consumers. Customer loyalty and best price are still important to consumers but not brand honesty and empathy.

A major challenge for brands is how to engage these consumers. Gen Zers and millennials are too diverse. Spagnuolo said marketers need to consider each generation separately and their individual needs and what they want out of their shopping experiences to achieve success.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder & Chairman of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently owned PR firms in the United States. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth and vision, with the agency earning accolades including being named a Top 50 Global PR Agency by PRovoke Media, a top three NYC PR agency by O'Dwyers, one of Inc. Magazine's Best Workplaces and being awarded multiple American Business Awards, including a Stevie Award for PR Agency of the Year. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected public relations executives. Throughout his career he has advised leading and high-growth businesses, organizations, leaders and boards across corporate, technology and consumer industries. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications. He has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly in the media and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. Torossian's strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, a Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a recipient of Crain's New York Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Outside of 5W, Torossian serves as a business advisor to and investor in multiple early stage businesses across the media, B2B and B2C landscape. Torossian is the proud father of two daughters. He is an active member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of multiple not for profit organizations.