Selling to Gen Z on Social? Forget Facebook Shops


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Lots of research shows that Facebook is used significantly less by Generation Z, but what happens when it comes to shopping? How does Generation Z use social media for shopping?

New research from SimplicityDX shows that just like the older age groups, about half of Gen Z online shoppers think that social media is a great place to discover new products, but three-quarters prefer to buy on the brand site rather than checking out on social. This reflects the broader trend for shopping at the edge, where the purchase journey often begins on social, but the actual purchase happens on the brand site.

Reluctance to Buy on Social

Consumer reluctance to check out on social is multifaceted: Fears of being scammed, inventory issues, sharing data with the social network, and concerns about product returns are all factors. Customers that go on to buy on social generally find the experience poor, perhaps having to contact the merchant to try and get a return. These return experiences lead two-thirds of shoppers to shy away from buying again on social, preferring to click through to the brand site. These patterns are consistent across the different age groups; while young people may be more trusting, they are also more internet savvy and wary of being scammed.

Instagram Reigns Supreme for Gen Z Social Shopping

But when it comes to where Gen Z shops, there are significant differences compared with their older brethren:

Note that this data specifically excludes Facebook Marketplace which dominates Meta’s numbers and tends to skew results.

What’s fascinating is that while most of the social networks have a similar share of mind irrespective of the age groups, Instagram dominates Gen Z shopping with almost half of Gen Z social shoppers thinking first about a recent purchase using the platform, compared with one-third for all shoppers. TikTok surprisingly is at 20% for all social shoppers and 22% for under 25s, reflecting that TikTok’s appeal isn’t just to Gen Z. Facebook Shops, though, is a big loser, with only 5% of Gen Z shoppers using it for a recent purchase. This makes it pretty much irrelevant if you’re targeting younger shoppers.

Hopefully, this doesn’t come as a complete surprise to you. We’ve known for some time that Generation Z is not spending time on Facebook, but it’s very revealing to look at this through a shopping lens. After all, brands dedicate on average 25% of their digital ad spend to social media, primarily to drive new customer acquisition. If you’re only targeting younger shoppers and seeking to sell product, Facebook looks very marginal at this point.

Recommended Approach for Selling to Generation Z on Social

Focus on Instagram and then TikTok. This data shows clearly that when it comes to shopping, Instagram is the number one destination for Generation Z to buy products. TikTok is also very relevant, with a different vibe from Instagram. Covering both secures an audience of 70% of where Generation Z buys using social.

Set up and maintain accurate product catalogs, and think carefully about which products you should sell on social. Most product catalogs uploaded into social are poorly maintained, suffering from inventory and promotional synchronization issues. Set refresh rates to hourly if possible, especially if you have fast-selling items likely to go out of stock. Some platforms are restricted to a 24-hour update, and because of this, you should consider not listing fast-moving, low-stock items on social.

Avoid social checkout; rather direct traffic to your brand site. Three-quarters of Generation Z social shoppers prefer to check out on the brand site. As a brand, you also get to capture the customer data and consent to market to these newly acquired customers as well. This is important because profitability comes from repeat sales not from one-off purchases.

Recognize that social networks are different, and consumers use them for different purposes. TikTok is a great destination to be entertained, so it’s important to develop engaging content relevant to the channel. This probably means developing channel-specific content rather than one piece of content that is published across multiple channels.

Generation Z is an important group of consumers for brands; it’s the next generation of shoppers, with 68 million consumers in the U.S. alone. When it comes to their shopping habits, social media is important and a great place to discover new products. But not all social media is alike — in fact quite the opposite. And for Generation Z shopping, Instagram is the clear favorite, at least for now, with TikTok coming up fast in the rearview mirror.

Charles Nicholls
Charles Nicholls is a social commerce expert and board advisor to several e-commerce startups. He founded SeeWhy, a real-time personalization and machine learning platform, which was sold to SAP. Serving as SVP of product, he built SAP Upscale Commerce, an e-commerce platform for direct-to-consumer brands and the mid-market. Today, Charles serves as chief strategy officer for SimplicityDX, a commerce experience company. He has worked on strategy and projects for leading ecommerce companies worldwide, including Amazon, eBay, Google and many others.


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