By Mary Ellen Dugan
Gen Z has emerged as the driving force behind much of the transformation occurring in today’s digital world.
Members of this generation, who were born after 1996 and who have never known a world without the Internet, have an entirely new set of expectations when it comes to being online. They want digital experiences that include everything from voice and personalization to more emotive and predictive technologies, powered by AI. Businesses that fail to adopt these new technologies will increasingly be challenged and pressured by those who do.
That’s because Gen Z is expected to make up 40% of all consumers by 2020, according to Fast Company. They have increasing buying power and influence, and as they assume their role as the new digital power brokers, they will take all of us along for the ride.
Generational shifts rarely come with a business case or cost-benefit analysis, but in an effort to make sure our own platform at WP Engine is ready to deliver the digital experiences of tomorrow, we launched what is now an annual survey aimed at understanding how Gen Z behaves, buys and builds online. Here’s what we found out.
The Clock is Ticking
While Gen Z may be fiscally responsible and able to identify what they want, the generation has the shortest attention span, born out of the social platforms—eight seconds, which is down a whopping 33% from Millennials’ 12 seconds.
They crave immediacy. In the digital realm, this means a complete intolerance for slow-loading websites. The result is clear – sites that take too long to load won’t draw the Gen Z demographic. To draw a finer point, world-class sites still take nearly two seconds to load, which means even in the best case scenario, you ONLY have six seconds to engage Gen Z. The clock is truly ticking when it comes to this intersection of technology imperatives and waning attention spans, and businesses that neglect this area of digital transformation, do so at their own peril.
If that isn’t challenging enough, consider that mobile is by far the preferred method for Gen Z to access the web. Meanwhile, most sites are far slower to render on mobile than on a laptop. In fact, the average mobile website takes a shocking 15 seconds to load, an eternity for Gen Z.
Gen Z is well aware of their options and if they become impatient, they will simply go elsewhere. Today, businesses that win with mobile are those that have successfully leveraged technologies such as Advanced Mobile Pages (AMP) or Progressive Web Apps (PWA)—both of which significantly reduce mobile page loading times.
If you’ve already optimized your sites for speed, the next hurdle with regards to engaging Gen Z is the type of content you serve up once they’ve landed on your site.
A major trend our study identified was that while a majority of Americans rely on the internet for access to information,Gen Z is reversing that trend, 66% turn primarily to the internet to be entertained rather than informed. This is a significant generational shift with important ramifications for branded content, websites, ads and even physical stores and venues.
While what constitutes entertaining content is open for interpretation, one safe bet is leaning heavily on video. Our study found that a vast majority of Americans believe video content will grow to dominate the Internet within the next five years. That percentage increased from 71% in 2017 to 76% in 2018. It’s exactly this trend that has driven the rise of YouTube and made it the most popular social platform among Gen Z.
More than that, Gen Z wants their entertainment to be more human-like and emotive. This is where personalization, predictive technologies and AI all come into play. Businesses that are successfully engaging with Gen today are featuring a mix of these technologies throughout their digital channels. They’re constantly experimenting and learning as they do so, in wonderful, creative ways.
Fusing the Digital and Analog Worlds Into One
While other generations still view the digital world as separate from their physical lives, Gen Z sees it as a cohesive part of their everyday existence, and the implications of this shift are massive.
Reaching this growing group of consumers means understanding where they are and where they’re going. Embracing new technologies, keeping speed as a strategic imperative and creating more emotive, entertaining content is the only way businesses will succeed in reaching this generation. As Gen Z continues to demand more from the digital world, you can either follow their lead or watch them pass by.