Gen Z Buying Habits in the Midwest

Anyone born between 1997 and 2012 belongs to Gen Z. This generation, many of whom are no longer kids, now makes up about 20% of the population of the United States. Increasingly, this means that the shopping habits of Gen Z are starting to shape the marketplace for everyone else as well.

Self-care products and clothing brands are among the products favored most by this generation. But what other products and brands are hot among Gen Z shoppers? Read on to learn more about Gen Z buying habits in the Midwest and beyond.

Self-Care Products

Self-care is important to Gen-Z, and that extends to how they spend their money and the products they purchase. Skincare and beauty products are big sellers among Gen Z women in particular. But the brands they choose aren’t necessarily the same ones that appeal to older customers. Three of the hottest Gen Z beauty brands right now are Fenty Beauty, E.L.F., and The Ordinary.

The appeal of each of these brands is unique. Fenty Beauty is beloved for its inclusiveness; Gen Z consumers named Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty as the most inclusive brands in North America in a recent survey. Having Rihanna as the face of the brand probably doesn’t hurt either! The Ordinary draws Gen Z shoppers in with its extremely affordable prices and accessibility. E.L.F. wins customers with low prices combined with its pledge to only use vegan ingredients that haven’t been tested on animals.

Fashion Nostalgia

As ever, nostalgia is one of the primary drivers of style. Fashion trends tend to cycle over time, and Gen Z shoppers are currently bringing back looks from prior eras (with a modern spin, of course). In part, this trend may be due to the fact that Gen Z shoppers are more likely to purchase previously owned clothes than shoppers of any other generation. This makes sense, given the proliferation of impressive vintage and thrift stores that have seemingly popped up everywhere. Online marketplaces like Depop and Poshmark mean you can shop for second-hand stuff without getting off your couch.

But which fashion trends are currently being recycled? Grunge fashion, a staple of the ‘90s, is definitely making a comeback. Flannel shirts, cardigans, and oversized clothes are back on the menu. Not to mention combat boots, Converse, and Vans.

Denim is definitely having a moment as well. And it’s not just limited to jeans. Denim skirts, jean jackets, even denim accessories. If you’re worried your look might have too much denim, relax — there’s no such thing.

Nostalgia impacts more than just clothing trends. In increasing numbers, GenZers have been picking up vintage digital cameras — relics from an era before smartphone cameras became so ubiquitous and high-quality. Old favorites like the Nikon COOLPIX and Canon PowerShot are experiencing a mini-renaissance. You’ll find plenty of evidence of this trend on Instagram, where photos taken with these retro cameras abound.

For those more interested in camera quality than nostalgia, Apple continues to be the dominant technology brand among Gen Z consumers. Sales of iPhones are continuing to rise faster than that of other phones, primarily powered by younger consumers. And those consumers cite camera quality as their primary reason for preferring iPhones to other smartphones. AirPods are another Apple product that is most popular with Gen Z and millennial consumers.

Junk Food

Gen Z is typically portrayed as more health-conscious than previous generations. This makes sense, given that there’s more information available than ever about how to live a healthy lifestyle and consume a healthy diet. And it’s true that Gen Z consumers buy a lot of fitness gear and are more likely to eat a vegetarian or gluten-free diet than members of previous generations.

But it’s also true that Gen Z is absolutely in love with junk food. Most lists of Gen Zer’s favorite brands include Doritos, M&Ms, KitKat, and Oreo. Obviously, all of these brands are old favorites that have been around for quite a while. But that hasn’t stopped Gen Z from embracing them as their own!

Social Influence

One of the most unique things about Gen Z trends is the influence of social media. The vast majority of Gen Z shoppers report that social media influences their shopping decisions, and half of Gen Z and Millenial consumers have made purchases directly on a social media platform. This is also reflected by the fact that Gen Z’s favorite brands are actually tech companies themselves, from YouTube and TikTok to Netflix and Amazon.

Brands that work with social media personalities and use these platforms creatively are extremely popular right now with Gen Z consumers. Take Gymshark, the activewear brand that was founded in 2012 and rode digital marketing campaigns and user-created social media content all the way to becoming a billion-dollar brand. Gymshark is also reflective of the popularity of athletic and leisure wear with Gen Z. Legacy brands like Nike and Adidas are also extremely popular among Gen Z, in part due to the rise of “athleisure.”

Clothes certainly aren’t the only product category where social media influences sales. Take #BookTok. This TikTok trend did the seemingly impossible — it made books cool again among Gen Z and younger consumers. Authors like Colleen Hoover, Jenny Han, and Alice Oseman have seen their books fly off shelves due to social media support. “Ugly Love” by Colleen Hoover and “The Summer I Turned Pretty” by Jenny Han sold particularly well in the Midwest.

Forecasting the Future

Like most other groups, Gen Z’s shopping preferences can’t really be put in a box. While lots of younger consumers do use social media to interact with brands and products, increasing numbers of younger consumers report preferring to shop in-store rather than online. And while many Gen-Zers are highly influenced by price, for others, quality is their number one concern. One thing is certain — Gen Z’s buying power and influence will only continue to increase.



  • Chris Kane

    Chris Kane is a military veteran and former business owner currently living in the Des Moines, Iowa, metro. Chris is an inveterate entrepreneur and avid web developer who is not shy about sharing his opinions.

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