How are Generation Z shaping retail design?

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Move over millennials, Generation Z have entered the buying arena. Set to become the single largest groups of consumers worldwide in just a few years, the demands and priorities of this demographic will shape the way we shop, the spaces we occupy, way brands grow and the way retail design companies design.

But what does this generation look like? And what do they really want? In their recent white paper, ‘The Gen Z Equation’, WGSN set out to find out. After interviewing 16-21 year-olds from around the world, they discovered that Generation Z is a divided demographic. Split between Gen Me and Gen We, this is a generation “defined by technology, cultural aggregation, fluidity and contradiction. They are a divided generation, yet they are connected at the very same time by these commonalities.”

For brands and retail design companies, designing for a “divided generation” presents its own challenges. Here we look at what each segment wants – and how brands can bridge the gap.

Gen Me: Instagram, Escapism, and Individuality

Gen Me are the segment of Generation Z that brands understand best. Making up the biggest proportion of this demographic, they’re driven by trends, influencers, and opportunities for escapism, whether that be through constructing their own personal brand on social media, or throwing themselves into the lives of online influencers.

Their rituals, habits and interests include:

Social Media
For Gen Me, creating a visual lifestyle on social media is a top priority. This obsession with capturing the ‘perfect shot’ means that Female Gen Zers now spend $368 annually on beauty, with skincare being a leading driver, up 18% year-on-year.

Hype Culture
Gen Zers are tirelessly looking for the next big thing, buying into brands like Supreme, Palace and Bape and promoting their purchases for resell almost simultaneously. With resell culture set to outpace fast fashion by 2027, brands and retail design companies should be ready to embrace the rise of hype culture.

New IRL communities
For Gen Me, IRL events and physical stores have become an extension of their digital life, tempting them in with the promise of opportunities for new content.

Gen We: Empathy, Optimism and Off-line Experiences

Located on the other end of the spectrum, Gen We have a hugely different relationship with social media, influencers and consumption than their Gen Me counterparts. According to WGSN, this group values compassion, embraces vulnerability, and prefers to engage with reality rather than escape it. This focus on ‘We’ rather than ‘Me’ means they’re drawn to brands that celebrate self-expression and empowerment.

Their rituals, habits and interests include:

Gen We want to be pushed out of their comfort zone through cultural immersion. Their passion for authentic travel is reflected in what they want to buy, eat and watch.

Concerned with progress rather than success, Gen We prioritises community and connection. As well as using social media to campaign against inequality, they use their purchasing power to support brands that vouch for sustainability, transparency and authenticity.

Offline space
Gen We are more aware than anyone of the toll social media plays on their mental health, so they make a more conscious effort to connect with friends and family offline.

How can retailers bridge the gap?

Gen Me and We might seem to be polar opposites, but as part of Gen Z they share common characteristics that brands can tap into. According to WGSN, “Gen Z wants to reframe outdated social constructs and create new ones. Brands that do the same will resonate with them.”

This means creating retail spaces that shake up the norm, while also delivering:


Inclusivity should be baked into everything brands do.

Offline Experiences

Both Gen We and Gen Me want to connect with brands and each other IRL, whether through events, pop-ups or workshops.


Brands should stay tuned into social issues, while offering the chance for escapism, whether it’s through ASMR-led content or Instagrammable activations.


Both Gen We and Me are looking for flexibility, informality and authenticity.

For brands and retail design companies, the emergence of a divided Generation Z poses challenges, but also opportunities to create diverse, experiential spaces that aim to disrupt convention and resonate with a complex crowd.