Taking stock with teens: COVID’s new impact on Gen Z’s spending habits, brand preferences

by | Oct 16, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

As communicators are well aware, Generation Z contributes approximately $830 billion to U.S. retail sales annually—and represents an influential consumer group where wallet size and allocation provide a proxy for category interest. With their academic lives now being reshaped by the COVID crisis, Gen Z is adjusting on the fly to the new normal, and their spending habits and brand preferences have become just as flexible, according to new research from institutional securities firm Piper Sandler Companies.

This year’s Fall 2020 survey, Taking Stock with Teens, the firm’s 40th semi-annual survey, conducted in Aug. and Sept. in partnership with DECA, was heavily impacted by the pandemic—76 percent of teens have returned to school in either a hybrid format or fully virtual. The survey received the highest amount of responses from the South at 42 percent of the mix and 10 percent of the responses from the Northeast—similar to Spring 2020.

“Our Fall survey gave rise to some fascinating takeaways as consumers are adjusting to a new normal—47 percent of students came back to school virtually this year and another 29 percent of our respondents are back-in-school in a hybrid format. While we are not surprised that overall teen spending was down again given the economic backdrop, we are seeing wallet share priorities change including increased share for video games & furniture/room accessories and decreased share for food & concerts/events,” said Erinn Murphy, Piper Sandler senior research analyst, in a news release.

“TikTok, now the No. 2 preferred social media platform behind Snapchat, is fueling brands like e.l.f. & CeraVe, which both hit new survey highs, while trends like ‘5-inch shorts’ are on the rise among males. Pinterest also gained share among teens as they look for creative outlets & DIY trends to spend their time. SHEIN made notable gains in our survey as a preferred apparel brand & website.

“One distinguishing feature of GenZ is that they are a generation that cares about social justice. Racial Equality/Black Lives Matter and the Environment are their top current issues. With Environment at the forefront of their minds, we are seeing an uptick of teens ‘thrifting’ or shopping secondhand. We believe this will be a very important trend to watch in the future.”

Fall 2020 key findings:

Spending & shopping behavior

  • Areas of wallet share contraction included: Food (still No. 1 priority) and Concerts/Events
  • Areas of wallet share expansion included: Video Games, Movies & Furniture/Room Accessories
  • Amazon remains teens’ No. 1 preferred online shopping mindshare at 54 percent but SHEIN takes No. 2 spot for the first time (ahead of Nike)
  • Skincare spending eclipses cosmetics spending for the first time ever among females; skincare for females was only down 3% & skincare for males was up 12 percent
  • 84 percent of female teens rely on influencers as a source of discovery for beauty brands & trends
  • Video games hold 10 percent of total teen wallet share—new survey high; 63 percent expect to purchase a NextGen console
  • Secondhand represents 8 percent of shopping time allocation, taking share from off-price, specialty & department stores; Thrift ranked No. 13 as a preferred apparel brand/retailer vs. No. 44 last year

Brand preferences

  • Chick-fil-A remains No. 1 restaurant; Chipotle gains share & Dunkin’ Donuts moves up to No. 4
  • 18 percent of teens consume plant-based meat with Impossible Foods as the No. 1 choice
  • Lays is most preferred snack brand among teens
  • Ulta maintains No. 1 preferred beauty destination against Sephora for fourth survey in a row
  • e.l.f. climbs to the No. 2 cosmetics brand from No. 4 last year—a new survey high
  • CeraVe climbs to No. 1 skincare brand at a staggering 28 percent share, surpassing Neutrogena
  • Teens spend 34 percent of their daily video consumption on Netflix, followed by YouTube
  • 86 percent of teens own an iPhone and 89 percent expect an iPhone to be their next phone, both new all-time survey highs

Taking stock with teens: COVID’s impact on Gen Z’s spending habits, brand preferences

The Piper Sandler “Taking Stock with Teens” survey is a semi-annual research project that gathers input from 9,800 teens with an average age of 15.8 years. Discretionary spending patterns, fashion trends, technology, and brand and media preferences are assessed through surveying a geographically diverse subset of high schools across the U.S. Since the project began in 2001, Piper Sandler has surveyed more than 194,800 teens and collected over 48.2 million data points on teen spending.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter


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