There’s an entire category of memes dedicated to shopping at Target. They all have the same basic message: You’re going to go to Target for deodorant. You accidentally leave with $94 worth of stuff (but not deodorant) and you’re thankful to Target for providing the opportunity.
Gen Z—those born between 1995 and 2010, a group that’s projected to be 40% of the consumer base by 2020—loves Target. And according to C+R Research, college students, the oldest members of Gen Z, love it the most. Inspired by a 2016 Google-commissioned study about teenagers, the market insights agency analyzed Google search volume by looking at more than 500 keywords in 25 major college towns such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Tempe, Arizona; and Madison, Wisconsin.
Brands like Apple, Amazon and Whole Foods Market proved particularly popular among Gen Z. But across the board, no brand was as beloved as Target. What is it about Target that resonates so much with the next generation of shoppers?
“Gen Z has a really heavy digital lifestyle, but they still do most of their shopping in-store,” says Collin Czarnecki, a content strategist at Digital Third Coast. “Target has all these delivery options, but at the same time, ‘making a Target run’ has become part of our vernacular. When I think of college students setting up their dorm room, I think of going on a Target run for totes and storage bins.”
Profitect Inc. found that 42% of 18- to 22-year-old shoppers prefer to shop in stores, rather than online. At the same time, those survey respondents also demand that retailers’ websites accurately reflect what’s in stock at those stores.
Last year, Target invested billions of dollars into its omnichannel offerings, ultimately increasing sales by 10%. In March, CEO Brian Cornell said his goal is to make Target “America’s easiest place to shop.” Some of those initiatives include improved next-day delivery; a Pinterest partnership focused on visual search; and a drive-up service where employees load online orders into customers’ cars.
On paper, Target and Walmart have a lot of similarities. Both are big box stores where you could get just about anything for a decent price. One key difference is that Target is far smaller and more manageable. The average Target store is 135,000 square feet; the average Walmart is 179,000 square feet. The difference between the two is about one whole acre, or three-quarters of a football field.
Judge Graham, CEO of JudgeGraham.com, which helps small business scale, thinks of something his 10-year-old son said: “Dad, you know why Toys ‘R’ Us went out of business? Because Target only has four toy aisles, but it’s all the good stuff.”
In his opinion, it’s not the size as much as the curation. Having grown up in the digital age, Gen Z prizes personalization, which is ultimately about curation.
“Walmart may have 75 different body washes where Target may only have 20, but they’re from higher-quality brands with more premium placement,” says Graham. “People shop on Amazon and filter based on reviews and price. Target has taken that shopper mindset and combed it down into a physical experience. Gen Z places a high value on experience and Target has taken the Walmart experience, but put an uber-chic premium feel to it.”
Something else Czarnecki thinks appeals to Gen Z is the company’s branding. Here’s an example from a recent back to school campaign:
“Within recent years, there’s been a push toward simplified messaging in your advertising. In terms of aesthetics, it’s simple, bold colors and fonts and really direct one-word messaging,” he says. “That really resonates and establishes that cool factor for younger shoppers.”
Beyond campaigns, Target’s perception also factors into its branding. The retailer is immune to much of the criticism lobbed at Walmart, thanks to some progressive stances such as designating sections of the store as gender-neutral. A brand’s values, including a commitment to diversity and inclusivity, are particularly important to Gen Z. According to n-gen People Performance’s 2017 National Gen Z Survey of 600 Canadian students, 69% want to “live and work in a diverse community.” They tend to expect the brands they buy from to have that attitude as well.
“Target is aware of what’s going on in society and tries to weave that messaging into their branding and marketing, the brands they carry, how they employ people, how they treat people,” says Graham. “Gen Z is more acutely aware of and interested in social issues. Legacy brands have to adapt to them and their buying power. If not, they’re going to lose market share.”
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