2019 has already proven to be a tumultuous year for retail. For every revolution, in the form of customer personalization, interactive mirrors and the promise of omnichannel, it seems another retailer is closing its doors for good. In April, Coresight Research reported that store closures in the United States in 2019 so far have already exceeded the total number that closed in 2018 . The firm stated that this year, U.S. retailers have already announced almost 6,000 (5,994) store closures, compared to 5,864 in all of 2018.

There is an apparent dark cloud lingering above the industry whereby brands are currently at crossroads; pushing them to either innovate or risk losing customers and joining the ranks of those who have closed their doors.

An emerging demographic with increasing influence

Over the years, a lot of brands have based their strategies on targeting millennials - seen to be one of the most influential demographics due to their disposable income and buying power. However, just as brands have gained insight on what makes millennials tick, a new demographic has emerged with the opportunity to change the landscape indefinitely.

We have seen the rise of Generation Z consumers, typically aged 20 and younger who predominantly use multiple channels, including social media platforms, to purchase. In addition to using social media platforms for direct purchases, Gen Z consumers are also heavily influenced by Youtubers and content creators. For instance, a recent report by Visual Objects identified YouTube as the most-visited website by Generation Z audiences .

It’s important that brands don’t discredit this new generation of consumers, since it is estimated that Generation Z will account for 40 percent of all U.S. consumers by 2020 . Yet, the demographic remains largely elusive.

A report by Accenture dived into the mindset of Generation Z to gain a better understanding of their buying habits. It found that, unsurprisingly, social media and digital channels are a key part of their shopping behavior with two thirds purchasing directly through social media.

Retail Checkout People at the check-out counters at a retail store. Photo: Random Retail/Flickr

A new demographic calls for a new brand strategy

With a new demographic swiftly gaining more influence, it’s never been more crucial for brands to shift  their focus from the more “traditional” buying habits of millennials and develop strategies that enable them to reach this next generation.

Previously, technology has played a fundamental role in enabling retailers to reach millennial audiences and, if used accordingly, should allow brands to engage with this new demographic. The key is to understanding this new generation’s shopping behaviors and then applying the right technology to align with these behaviors.

Accenture’s research found that video held significant influence over Generation Z’s shopping habits. It also found that this demographic is interested in subscription-type offerings and two thirds of Gen-Z consumers are curious about purchasing directly via social media.

Whilst the habits of Generation Z shoppers are far more complex and go beyond these few attributes, brands can take these learnings and apply them to new strategies. If your customers are influenced by video and social media, present them with appropriate content. If they require instant gratification, simplify the overall shopping experience to follow a “see it, want it, get it” model.

Using AI to understand and engage this new audience

Failing to understand the importance of engaging with Generation Z shoppers could result in loss of sales and potential store closures. In order to avoid this, brands must implement the right technologies that enable them to directly target, engage and gain valuable insight into this new cohort of consumers.

This is where Artificial Intelligence is proving to be king. Through the use of AI, brands are able to offer a more personalized experience by examining and then acting upon the abundance of data already available.

In order to effectively reach new audiences, brands need to have a better understanding of how they behave. AI can’t give you access to this type of data but it can assess and act upon it. For example, if Gen-Z are influenced by video and shop via social platforms, AI can be used to target these consumers with appropriate video ads and exclusive online discounts across these channels.

The retail landscape is currently facing a challenging era; with more stores facing closure and brands falling victim to depreciating customer loyalty. However, with a new generation emerging and predicted to have more spending power than any other demographic, now is the time for brands to rethink their strategies, identify ways to reach these consumers and utilize technology to keep them engaged.

Gurps Rai is the chief innovation officer at Dropp, a new shoppable media platform.