Seeing is Believing: How user-generated visuals unlock Gen Z’s purchase power

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Consumer trust has become the modern-day holy grail for brands and retailers in the era of endless online shopping choices. If a product listing doesn’t inspire confidence, shoppers can abandon a potential purchase with a single click. But an eye-opening new report from PowerReviews reveals that optimized user-generated visual content (UGC) may be the key to unlocking that coveted consumer trust — especially among the digitally native Gen Z audience.

The 2024 Role and Impact of User-Generated Visual Content on Shopper Behavior report found that 60% of consumers always search for user-generated photos and videos before hitting “add to cart” — a 10 percentage point increase from just three years ago. This data underscores marketing’s latest truth: Brand-provided imagery alone is no longer enough to sway shoppers. Consumers, especially younger generations, demand raw visuals from fellow buyers to gauge real-world quality, sizing, performance and more.

Gen Z’s appetite for authentic user-generated content far outpaces that of older generations. Over 60% of these savvy digital shoppers seek customer photos and videos, compared to just 29% of Baby Boomers. This disparity signals that Gen Z is becoming more selective in their purchasing, preferring deliberate and well-informed buying decisions over impulsive purchases. It also highlights the importance of effective product content orchestration strategies in ensuring UGC aligns with brand messaging and fosters consumer trust.

The power of user-generated visual content

Nearly 90% of consumers prefer real, user-generated visuals because these unfiltered photos and videos showcase products in realistic settings (outside of idealized brand marketing shots) through the lens of actual buyers. About three-quarters (72%) appreciate how customer visuals provide a better sense of an item’s size compared to standard product images. And 70% turn to UGC photos and videos to gain a clearer, third-party understanding of product quality and performance before purchasing.

By setting accurate expectations up front, user-generated visuals instill confidence that shoppers will receive exactly what they ordered. But the benefits extend beyond expectation-setting: The authenticity of these customer-created assets boosts overall shopper trust and sentiment toward a brand or retailer.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for brands to prioritize UGC optimization? Over 90% of shoppers say they are more likely to purchase a product when reviews include a mix of text testimonials and user-generated photos/videos. This statistic represents a six percentage point increase from 2021 and a substantial 19-point jump since 2016, proving visual UGC’s influence is intensifying.

Gen Z leads the charge for visual UGC

As digital natives who came of age with smartphones and social media, Gen Z is adept at navigating online platforms and conducting thorough research before making a purchase decision. This generation values authenticity and transparency, and they’re more likely to align with brands that champion causes important to them, like sustainability. 

It’s no surprise, then, that Gen Z leads the charge in seeking out raw, user-generated photos and videos during their purchase journeys. This content represents the authenticity they desire from brands. Professional product marketing can only go so far — Gen Z wants to see real people using real products in real environments to judge quality, fit, performance and more.

McKinsey revealed beauty and apparel rank among the top areas this generation plans to splurge on in the coming months. Similarly, 1WorldSync’s Consumer Product Content Benchmark report found that 61% of all shoppers research products online before purchasing. These data points paint a clear picture: Optimizing the visibility and discoverability of customer photos and videos is table stakes for brands hoping to attract Gen Z buyers in beauty, fashion and other highly visual categories. 

Gen Z conducts immense online research, prioritizes authenticity and has significant spending power targeted toward sectors where UGC shines. Brands lacking robust UGC integration will likely fail to meet the younger generation’s high expectations.

Meeting consumer expectations

The ramifications of lacking customer photos and videos can be severe for brands and retailers looking to inspire confidence and conversions. Nearly a quarter (23%) of shoppers surveyed in the PowerReviews report stated they simply won’t purchase a product if it lacks any user-generated visuals in the reviews section. Among Gen Z buyers, that percentage skyrockets to over one-third (36%) who outright abandon their carts without seeing UGC.

Every abandoned cart represents lost revenue and brand loyalty. By neglecting to showcase consumer content, businesses fail to meet shoppers’ visual UGC expectations and lose out to savvier competitors.

So, how can brands ensure they deliver the visual UGC experience that modern shoppers crave? Start with strategically integrating customer photos and videos where consumers want to see them. Approximately 84% of shoppers prefer having access to user-generated visuals directly on product detail pages (PDPs) rather than having to hunt for them. Directly displaying UGC assets allows buyers to seamlessly access the content they crave, which is proven to boost confidence and purchase intent.

For Gen Z in particular, convenience is paramount. They expect the shopping experience to be intuitive and transparent, from product research to checkout. By surfacing UGC on PDPs, brands make it easy for Gen Z consumers to view visuals that heavily influence their purchasing behavior.

Beyond visibility, diversifying the types of consumer visuals available is also key. Brands should crowdsource photos and videos showcasing products from multiple angles — with different use cases — on various people to appeal to broad audiences. Leveraging tools that encourage user content submission is critical.

The rise of visual user-generated content is undeniable, fueled largely by Gen Z’s appetite for authenticity and transparency. As Gen Z’s spending power and influence continues growing, prioritizing the integration of consumer photos and videos is no longer optional for brands — it’s a competitive necessity. Those genuinely showcasing their products through the lens of real consumers will earn Gen Z’s (and future generations) loyalty and wallet share.

Randy Mercer
Randy is an omnichannel product content expert with over 15 years of industry experience. He leads 1WorldSync’s global product management and solution architecture teams, aligning the company’s portfolio with current customer needs and emerging market trends. A frequent commentator for national and trade media outlets covering retail and ecommerce news, Randy leverages his extensive background in item data and content alignment, e-commerce application development and solution design to guide 1WorldSync’s strategic product roadmap and vision.

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