‘Woke, broke and complicated’ young consumers under the spotlight

By our News Team | 2023

The Economist examines the formidable mass of younger buyers with a very different mindset to their predecessors.

Given Africa’s expanding population of young people, the continent’s marketers have long been aware of the importance of this segment when developing their strategies. But in developed markets, which frequently have an ageing buyer demographic, this is sometimes less so.

Last week, though, the respected The Economist magazine again emphasised to marketers in these countries that “today’s youngsters” (which it classifies as Gen Z and Millennial consumers) are developing into a formidable mass of buyers with a very different mindset to their predecessors.

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“They are woke (socially aware), broke and complicated. Businesses should take note,” the publication warned. “As these youngsters start spending in earnest, brands are trying to understand what these walking paradoxes want and how they shop. The answers will define the next era of consumerism.”

Quoting a 2022 study by McKinsey, the Economist notes that the consultancy found less than half of Gen-Zeders believed they would ever own a home, while a quarter doubted they would ever be able to retire. These expectations were previously societal bedrocks in many countries. 

Tendency towards impulsive spending

Observing that the younger cohort has “thin wallets and expensive tastes”, the article says they nevertheless tend to spend impulsively. 

“Uncertainty about the future may be encouraging impulsive spending of limited resources in the present. The young were disrupted more by Covid than other generations and are now enjoying the rebound,” the article says. 

Millennials in the US, for example, spent 17% more in the year through to March 2022 than they did the year before.

Easy access to means of spreading payments may also encourage splashing out. Quoting market research firm Forrester, the article notes that most users of ‘buy now, pay later’ apps are a few years either side of 20.

And while this group of young consumers professes to be more values-driven than previous generations, there are contradictions. 

Their appetite for instant gratification, for example, is also fuelling some distinctly ‘ungreen’ consequences. “The environmental benefits of eating plants rather than meat can be quickly undone if meals are delivered in small batches by a courier on a petrol-powered motorcycle,” The Economist says.

You can read the full article (free registration required) here.