Zero consumer of the future or is customer experience just that bad

Zero consumer of the future or is customer experience just that bad
4 minutes read

Many of you will have heard of Millennials, Gen-Z or Gen-A (also called Gen Alpha – born in 2010 or after). In general, Gen-Z to Gen-A are digital natives, though Gen-A are more used to consuming social media and online content. Where once our workplaces up and down the land quivered at the thought of what Millennials wanted, Gen-Z really upset the apple cart. A generation with little patience (I want it now), more environmentally aware, passionate about causes that matter to them and bringing their whole self to work. As Gen-A grows in influence and graduates to the shopper of the future, the zero consumer concept has reached public consciousness. As a further evolution of Gen-Z traits, those in retail, fashion, cosmetics, consumer electronics and other sectors are trying to decode their futures. So, today we discuss the zero consumer of the future and ask if customer experience is just that bad.


Zero consumer

Broadly speaking, the definition of the zero consumer is not too dissimilar to that of how we see Gen-Z. Zero consumers are omni-channel, impatient (to get their order), seek out value, demand sustainability, value authenticity but display little loyalty. For retailers, this presents somewhat of a challenge. Arguably, disposable incomes are far higher for Millennials, Gen-X and Baby Boomer retirees. However, these are not the people who tend to shop the latest look based on a Tik-Tok or celebrity endorsement. For example, Gen-Z is the most lucrative age group for music consumption and about half of cosmetic purchases online. This group matters and the zero consumer appears a refinement and expansion of this definition.


What do zero consumers mean for retail?

Put simply, the zero consumer is forcing a rapid refresh for retailers, supply chains and digital marketplaces. No app to sell your fashion? You probably won’t capture the zero consumer. A slow website? Too slow, the zero consumer has lost patience. No click and collect? Oops, I will buy it from somewhere else instead. 3-5 day for delivery unless I pay £6.99 for 48 hours? Sorry, there are faster ways to get my stuff. Rocking some stock that a celebrity wore? Hmm, £99 is too much so I might try pre-loved instead, which is more sustainable. Hiding some facts about your product in your photos? The zero consumer either won’t take the risk or return it and never likely return to you.

Some research has found that these consumers are also more ‘visual’ than ever before, which makes sense if they do most of their research online. That means viewing products from different perspectives, high-quality images, videos and other ways they can ‘visualise’ themselves wearing it or using it. As strong proponents of neuroscientific research, this makes a lot of sense. Trust and our perception of it from online stores, apps and online advertising is crucial to capturing this consumer. Furthermore, customer experience covers a triumvirate of brand, lead-to-cash and trouble-to-resolve. For many, the visuals are their first ‘touchpoint’ with a brand so they have to be on-point. But, what if the zero consumer was more than just an evolution of Gen-Z and the incoming Gen-A?


Is Customer Experience just that bad?

Let’s tackle the 4-tonne elephant in the room. Are any of the elements of the zero consumer a surprise? Apple launched the App Store on 10th July 2008. Since then, most consumers have expected a proliferation of apps to cover their beloved brands. Whether you are in banking, retail, fashion, food, insurance or parking, the majority of consumers expect an app and check their app stores for its existence. Yes, we are getting on for 16 years and some household brand names don’t have a single app. Similarly, Amazon has been offering 1-day delivery via Amazon Prime since 2007. Yes, this means that many of today’s consumers, including some of Gen-Z, were born before this was launched. So, is it any wonder that many consumers are omni-channel and want frictionless ecommerce with fast delivery?

Gen-Z accounts for just over 15% of the population and around 4 in 5 possess a driving licence, a reduction from 9 in 10 at one point. Yes, some of this zero consumer group, though a little broader than Gen-Z, no longer drives. Other research has found that about 1 in 10 of this group plan to sacrifice cars for other more sustainable forms of transport. If we take the Gen-Z group as a majority of the zero consumer, we know that the average age of a first-time buyer is 34. First-time buyers put down deposits averaging £53k in 2023. It is little wonder that the zero consumer, or anyone born since 1997 for that matter, prioritises value. In fact, they also prioritise experiences to snap, video and share and remember long afterwards.

Finally, we have sustainability and ethical buying. Lower incomes, a cost-of-living crisis and house prices have pushed the zero consumer into the used market. Yes, second-hand, pre-owned or ‘pre-loved’ is seeing a meteoric rise to match shrinking disposable incomes. Since these tend to be disruptive business models, such as Vinted and Depop, they are not shackled by norms, legacy systems or physical stores. The result is that they can ‘develop-in’ frictionless journeys, authentic viewing possibilities (to build trust) and fast shipping options from the get-go.


The wrap-up on the zero consumer experience

We would argue that the zero consumer is a rebranding of sorts from Gen-Z. It also cuts across age groups in terms of customer experience. Amazon raised the expectations of consumers and for over 25 years it has set a benchmark that some still cannot match. Buying what I want, to solve the need I have and getting it when I want it is nothing new. With so many brands vying for quality reach – invading our every interaction online – lower loyalty makes sense. Similarly, if nobody offers differentiators, exceptional experiences or above-average perceptions of trust, they will obviously shop around. Brands, in short, need to work harder on their visuals, their lead-to-cash journey friction and trouble-to-resolve simplicity.

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Finally, why not read about why now might be the time to focus on your CX. Alternatively, see how you could approach your planning discussions differently.