How Gen Z and TikTok Created a Consumer Revolution

One of the most prominent present-day marketing challenges a business can face is capturing a target audience’s attention and keeping them intrigued for the long haul.
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As of 2023, it is hard to argue that consumerism isn’t ever-changing. But just how much change is too much?

Bergmeyer Interior Designer Eliza Steele shares her thoughts on modern consumerism and its correlation with her generation, Gen Z, and TikTok.

Social media platforms have transformed many aspects of how we go about our daily lives; they influence how we shop, consume news, and even how we interact and connect with one another. Take, for example, the global powerhouse video-sharing app TikTok which has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years while undeniably reshaping American culture as the go-to channel for creating, consuming, and sharing a variety of content – from funny pet videos to new recipes, life hacks, viral dance challenges, and everything in between.

TikTok has reshaped the customer journey from path to purchase, and it was only a matter of time before advertisers took note, especially with TikTok's recently launched 6s Engaged View Optimization. This innovative technology allows advertisers to combine the flexibility, convenience, and cost efficiency of TikTok's standard 6s video view optimization, upgraded with the ability to drive engagement through likes, comments, follows, shares, etc.

The platform continues to see growth in influencer marketing with content campaigns (like #tiktokmademebuyit or #amazonfinds) that feature user-generated product recommendations and tutorials, most often for trending product categories like clothing, makeup, home décor, and food + beverage.

To clarify the significance of these trends, videos posted with these hashtags have upwards of 12+ billion and 20+ billion views, respectively, proving that the popularity of these videos enforces a rapid trend cycle. This affirms that the app's users have a craving for the next cool, trendy thing. But the popularity of related TikTok videos tells us far more about the shopping habits of Gen Z (the largest TikTok user group) than simply their favorite Amazon products.

If brands want to respond effectively and appeal to younger generations, it is key to understand four influential factors that have driven this shift in consumption habits: convenience, authenticity, personalization, and “the dopamine rush.”

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For brands to appeal to the TikTok-using demographic, the shopping experience must be as convenient as possible for customers. One important takeaway for brands is that they should meet their customers where they are. While older generations may be more receptive to email blasts with coupon codes, Gen Z is more likely to interact with marketing content that is found on the social platforms they frequent (like TikTok or Instagram).

One of the most effective aspects of the TikTok shopping trends is that most creators will link the product directly in their bio, making for a seamless path to purchase for consumers. By offering direct links with their content, brands are more likely to gain the interest, appreciation, and respect of the younger generation. Even better are the brands that create a consistent and recognizable experience between in-store and online shopping for customers to connect with. Leveraging loyalty programs with valuable perks and rewards, conveniently stored data like past purchases, favorites/recently viewed items, and turn-key return options, like Amazon’s partnership with Kohl’s, give customers a variety of personalized options to choose from that best fit their shopping style.

Johnny Cupcakes

Johnny Cupcakes has built a loyal following for his retail brand through consistent, authentic messaging on social platforms, including TikTok. Johnny Earle, CEO of Johnny Cupcakes, is known for being a Brand Hysteria Expert, creating an empire with a heartfelt mission to make people happy by designing limited-edition t-shirts, greeting cards, and apparel. Johnny Cupcakes straddles both online sales and a brick-and-mortar business. Johnny’s new retail location invokes his values and passion for humor, games, playfulness, and inclusivity. He and his team mentioned that visitors to the store often credit Johnny Cupcakes’ social media presence for coming by, routinely hearing, “I saw your store on TikTok.”


While an active presence on social media platforms is essential to engage Gen Z, it likely won’t be effective if the content posted is inauthentic to the brand. Now more than ever, young shoppers demand that brands have holistic, inclusive, and purposeful values that are transparent about topics like sustainable and ethical practices. Posting content that aligns with Gen Z's principles is crucial to gaining customers' support and connecting through a shared purpose. For these brands to meet customers where they are, authenticity is key.

When it comes to TikTok, brands also need to consider the influencer’s profile and platform to ensure their values and approach to content creation align with that of the brand itself, keeping an especially close eye on how they and others promote products to their audience. As TikTok has evolved, users have become accustomed to seeing content that influencers create as part of a brand endorsement deal, where they are often paid not only to promote a specific product but also to sell a lifestyle to go with it.

But as brand deals have become more routine for influencers, it's become increasingly harder for users to distinguish between sponsored and organic content. After being disappointed by products that content creators hype up, TikTok users are beginning to question the integrity of influencer reviews. Inconsistencies between a content creator’s claims and the actual reality reflect poorly not only on the creator but also on the brand itself, as it makes users question why the creator would need to falsify claims about the product, to begin with.

Hence, we have seen a growing trend in user-generated content debunking the falsities of trending influencer reviews and posts to expose misleading and untruthful content. These "de-influencing" videos focus on why certain products may not actually be worth your money and, in many cases, will benefit competitor brands by featuring them as more viable product substitutes.

The major takeaway here is that if brands want to work with influencers on the app, they should consider creators who are proven brand loyalists that actually like and use their products (even if that means contractually obligating a creator to use and test the product for the recommended trial period before posting about it), and allowing them the freedom to reflect and review their experience honestly in their post. For brands to respond effectively to Gen Z’s TikTok consumption habits, it is important to have an authentic presence on all fronts, including sponsored content. There may not always be glowing reviews, but for the bold brands who choose authenticity over the bottom line, the long-term reward from consumer appreciation is well worth it.

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Ever wonder how TikTok knows you so well without ever asking you a question? For better or for worse, TikTok’s personalized algorithm is conditioning users, especially Gen Z users, to expect personalization at every end of their experience, but who is actually driving these suggestions, and do we even care to know if we see what we like every time we log on?

There is much debate on the pros and cons of how and why TikTok’s algorithm is used to target consumers, but one sure bet for advertisers is the unending opportunity for B2C brands to further connect and engage with their target audiences on a personalized level.

In the physical store environment, brands can integrate personalization by curating displays based on product use instead of separating them by a broad category like gender or age. For example, in an athleisure store, this could mean creating one display of clothing designed for high-intensity workouts and a separate display of items designed for yoga. Grouping by activity or by specific need helps customers find the right products for them while simultaneously encouraging the discovery of products they may not typically look for.

Having well-trained, knowledgeable customer service reps both in-store and online is another crucial aspect of creating a personalized experience for each customer. By getting to know the customers’ needs and wants, employees can use their brand expertise to give insightful product recommendations rather than just locating items in the store. Passionate brand ambassadors that teach customers about the product rather than solely trying to make a sale compel customers to trust the brand, and when it comes to retail personalization, in-person and online interactions should always be given the same level of attention and priority to ensure a seamless experience for loyal brand fans.

The Dopamine Rush

Research shows a dopamine increase related to the anticipation of waiting for an online purchase to arrive, and that emotional experience alone can encourage TikTok users to buy products they see on their feeds (Please refer to WSJ or The Science Times for examples of coverage on the subject). Due to a particular stage of brain development, Gen Z experiences the rush of dopamine in the moment with more intensity than their older generational counterparts. It’s believed that these moments of release lead teens to seek out activities that will induce a dopamine rush. That likely plays an important role in why TikTok’s product videos effectively prompt Gen Z users to spend money with no preemptive thought. Discovering and easily ordering a trendy, new product induces the feeling of excitement that Gen Z craves.

One way that brands can react to this idea through brick-and-mortar experiences is with pop-up retail design. The short-term, small-scale manner of the shop allows for it to be designed to fit current trends while also allowing for creative risk-taking that we often don’t see in a permanent store. Beyond a literal pop-up shop, this idea could be implemented within existing retail spaces by showcasing different brands or creating smaller curated areas to highlight new and seasonal products.

The temporary nature of pop-ups is thrilling, and it encourages shoppers to stop by before the shop is gone, creating major FOMO for consumers to act on. Whether they visit to buy something or just to take a picture for social media, the bold design of pop-ups is an effective way of promoting the brand, just by getting Gen Z into a physical retail space. Either of which can lead to a positive association with the brand.

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The Takeaway

In addition to authenticity and memorability, Gen Z is also heavily influenced by personalization and interactivity. Retailers that can offer thoughtfully personalized experiences that feel tailor-made to the individual consumer will not only make a meaningful connection that resonates with the Gen Z consumer, but that connection may also very well create a lifelong brand loyalist.

To our retailer readers here, we want to hear from you – has your brand adapted to the TikTok consumer revolution yet?

Curious to see how we approach experiential retail design for every generation? Reach out and say!