With Gens Z and Alpha, shopping’s future is seamless omnichannel

It’s been a couple years of e-commerce takeover. As we all know. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce soared to new heights as consumers shopped from home more than ever before. It was what many have (somewhat pessimistically) pictured the future of shopping to be ever since the dawn of e-commerce: Browse online, buy online, have all purchases delivered to one’s home. As a character lamented in one of this year’s Academy Award nominations for Best International Feature: “I grew up in a time of vinyl stores and tangible shopping. That’s not where we are anymore.” 

But, perhaps surprisingly for many, it may be where we are tomorrow. 

Generations Z and Alpha don’t want the mall to die—they like shopping in-store 

It may seem counterintuitive, but according to a new survey by CM Group, Generation Z (those who were born, roughly, between 1995 and 2012) constitutes the generation most likely to enjoy shopping in-store. According to recent data, 73% of Gen Z shoppers said they like to shop in-store to discover new products, and 58% of them say browsing in-store allows them to disconnect from the digital world. 


Gen Z consumers crave connection

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And they’re not just a blip. The generation younger than Gen Z, Generation Alpha (those born, roughly, between 2012 and 2024), also appreciate the in-store experience—far more than older generations would expect them to. More than 75% of Gen Alpha have reported that they enjoy the experience of physical retail shopping (Wunderman Thompson Insights, 2019). Surprisingly, more than 60% of them prefer buying products at a physical store rather than online. 

What does this mean for marketers? It means the true online-offline omnichannel experience should not be a secondary focus to e-commerce optimization. Instead, building a seamless hybrid customer experience across all channels is the most effective way to connect with the shoppers of today and tomorrow. 

Augmented reality retail 

With augmented reality in retail, customers no longer need to try clothes on to see how they fit. They can use a virtual fitting room to choose the look that fits best.  

Timberland, for example, has installed displays where visitors can see a mirror-like view of themselves and try on different clothes. 

Browse online, reserve and try on in-store 

Innovative brands have implemented new ways of shopping that truly combine the online shopping environment with that of in-store.  

For instance, Nordstrom created a system in which customers can browse clothing online, reserve their favorite choices and try them on in-store. This allows people to leverage the best parts of the online and offline shopping experiences.  

Lisa Collings, Senior Vice President of Client Development, Epsilon Digital Media Solutions at Epsilon, wrote in an article that shoppers (including herself) enjoy these changes—as long as they’re seamless.  

“Retailers everywhere are being tasked with upgrading their marketing to prioritize the customer experience, customizing how they interact with every customer to offer a seamless experience that matches that customer’s preferences,” she said. 

What this ‘hybridization’ of shopping means for marketers 

While it may have seemed as though shopping’s future was weighting on the e-commerce side, there’s a clear indication that the future of retail looks like a more truly equitable balance between online and offline shopping.  

This indicates that connected identity will be the most critical tool for marketers moving forward. Tying back all consumer touchpoints—browsing behavior, purchases—across all channels to a single, stable customer ID will ensure that brands are being as fluid with their marketing as consumers are with their shopping. And brands that best understand consumers make the most enduring connections. 

It's clear the lines between online and in-store shopping will blur, and perhaps rapidly. With third-party cookies already fading away, the best thing marketers can do is prioritize the stability of connected identity to ensure they’re putting the customer at the center, no matter where they are across devices and channels.  

Is your marketing connected enough for the future of shopping?