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How Quizzes Came to Rule Online Shopping for Millennials

Quizzes aren’t just entertainment for young consumers—they’re also the hottest retail trend for brands trying to reach them…

Millennials and Gen Z’s taste for personalized products and services that feel like they’re made just for them has spurred innovation in the space—and quizzes have become a major retail trend as a result. Three quarters of 13-34-year-olds say they’re interested in buying products that are customized to their taste, and over two in five say they have customized a product before. In our 2017 trend Customization Nation, we noted that online quizzes were a tool that some small brands were experimenting with to provide an experience that resulted in what felt like a “made for you” product recommendation. Since then, the retail quiz trend has exploded, and not too surprisingly, BuzzFeed (the quiz-hotspot of the internet) was a part of the retail quiz trend’s origins.

If there is anything that BuzzFeed has taught us, it’s that young consumers love quizzes—no matter how seemingly inane. A 2014 YPulse survey found that 90% of 14-32-year-olds had taken an online quiz about themselves for fun. Quizzes to find out where they should live, what their personality type is, or what Friends character they are through a series of fun, visual questions have maintained their position as a viral time-wasters in the years since. But for brands, quizzes can be an appealing way to collect information, and ultimately suggest a personalized product or service for purchase. Young consumers crave learning more about themselves and what makes them unique, and these companies are using quizzes to help them feel that they’re getting a product tailored to their needs and tastes. BuzzFeed, which helped to make online quizzes a part of the online entertainment landscape for Gen Z and Millennials, naturally took the leap into using them to sell products. Their wildly popular food platform Tasty began selling Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee beans in 2017, and true to their brand, a personality quiz will help shoppers determine their perfect blend. Quiz-takers were asked about their favorite fruit, how they feel about caffeine, what their ideal morning is like, and more, to which they can answer with emojis. Once the coffee choice was made, consumers could make it even more personal by creating their own labels.

But beauty startups were actually some of the first to adopt the quiz retail model. The upsurge of online shopping for products that were formerly exclusively in-person sales—like makeup, intimates, and shampoo—is another major reason behind the rise of product quizzes. Having a digital recommendation component to purchasing is both a way to stand out and a way to make buying former drugstore-staples feel more high-tech and personal (often with a price tag to match). In 2016, Function of Beauty began using a quiz to sell shoppers their perfect hair care fit, promoting them with a series of pop-ups where the quiz could be taken in person. But they don’t have a permanent brick-and-mortar presence. Instead, this is shampoo for the online shopping generation—and today the brand has become known for their customized products, and the quiz that creates the perfect formula for shoppers’ specific hair and lifestyle. Costumers are asked to answer a series of questions that speak to their hair type, what they want their hair to look like, smell like, and feel like, as well as what color they would like for their hair product’s bottle. Responses are then put through an ingredient algorithm, which currently offers 12 billion combinations of shampoo and conditioner. In its wake, more newbie brands—like Prose—have emerged and made a personalized product quiz a central part of their process. Bigger brands have since jumped onto the trend: Redken and Bumble & Bumble both offer “hair diagnostic” quizzes to help suggest products to online shoppers.

Online-based intimates brands are another category that has taken a formerly in-person shopping experience and used quizzes to make it a palatable, and successful e-commerce experience that feels potentially more personal than a trip to the lingerie aisle. ThirdLove is a pioneer in the product quiz trend. The brand launched in 2013 with a mission to take bra shopping online, because, as founder Heidi Zak told Business Insider, “nobody wants to go bra shopping.” Their “Fit Finder” quiz was the solution to finding the perfect bra without ever leaving home. According to the brand, more than 12 million women have taken the quiz, which will be a centerpiece of their upcoming physical store, where visitors will have to enter their email to get their results. Competitor True&Co naturally has their own fit quiz, a longer 17-question series that they developed through focus groups and interviews.

Another indie, e-commerce-centric brand has made quizzes a massive part of their customer experience, with major results. Stitch Fix launched in 2011, and customizing fashion box contents to subscribers tastes was a goal from the start. According to Quartzy, a thorough 80-question quiz starts users off with the service. But more recently, the brand has gamified their quizzes to get even more engagement—and more data out of users. Stitch Fix’s Tinder-style in-app game Style Shuffle launched in 2018 and is played by more than 75% of their shoppers, and they’re using the data to provide more personalized fashion choices. The game lets users swipe right and left on apparel. Using that user-rating data, styles are mapped together via an algorithm, just like a streaming service would suggest similar content users might like. In an interview with Vox, Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake explained the pros of quiz-based shopping: “I think this idea of personalization today has happened in the form factor…of five things that you’re getting in a box. When you’re engaging with Style Shuffle, for example, you’re thumbing up, you can log in to your app, you can log in to your Stitch Fix app and you’ll get a little quiz that says, “What do you think of this?” Then you can take a denim quiz, or you can take a night out quiz, or you can a jackets quiz, or whatever it is, and you can thumb up and down things and let us know what you’re liking. That’s just a glimmer of a way that you can engage with us. That’s not just kind of in the box.”

Personalized product quizzes have become a norm—especially among young, more indie brands targeting young consumers. And as brands like these have expanded product offerings to provide more inclusive ranges of sizes and, in the case of beauty brands, skin tones, quizzes have become a tool to help young shoppers figure out exactly which of the many products available are “made for them.” Rihanna’s lingerie brand Savage x Fenty recommends products via a short quiz (as do many upstart intimates brands), and her beauty brand Fenty Beauty just introduced a “Shade Finder” quiz to make shopping for makeup online a more seamless experience. After answering six, often visual questions about skin shade, visitors are given their exact match of Fenty Face foundation out of the 50 available shades—which they can then add to their bag instantly.

Today, it seems ever hot direct-to-consumer brand is adding a quiz to their online shopping process, and many big brands are following their lead. Warby Parker now has a quiz on style preferences and face shape to serve up glasses recommendations. The New York Times reports that digital-first startup Clare is shaking up the home décor niche of painting with quiz-based selections. Even pet supplement subscription box Goodboy uses a quiz to get users started.

Young consumers penchant for quizzes as entertainment, their desire for personalized experiences and customized products, and the rise of online-only brands have created a perfect storm for the quiz retail trend, and it shows no signs of slowing.