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Gen Z’s New Favorite Place to Shop for Clothes is an Industry Gamechanger

What Gen Z and Millennials wear has changed because of COVID—have their favorite places to shop changed as well? …


COVID changed what young people wanted to wear, and the way they shop for clothes, with a (major) increased demand for loungewear and athleisure. Now a year later, despite some concerns around the Delta variant and surges in COVID cases, young consumers have made attempts to get back to their “normal” lives and get back out there—and their fashion preferences are shifting again. Going out clothes are more in-demand, and  Trendalytics reported that consumers were ready to dress up in “loud” fashion as a form of self-expression as they hit the streets with fur-trimmed jackets, tiered ruffled dresses, patterned pants, and more “Retro-Futurism” pieces for women, along with bold patterns, and flashy and fun accessories for men.But while young people have been excited to wear anything other than sweats  again, YPulse’s recent fashion preferences and style behavioral report did find that many are interested in buying going out clothes comfortable loungewear is still a priority to them. In short, the impacts of COVID haven’t gone away.

And when it comes to the actual shopping experience, our shopping and retail behavioral report found that half of young consumers prefer online shopping to in-store shopping, and more are regularly shopping online than in a physical store.

So, in 2021, with all the shifts in  young consumers’ style and preferences in the way they shop, what are their favorite places to shop for clothes? YPulse’s fashion preferences and style survey asked Gen Z and Millenials to tell us their favorite place to buy clothing, and found that in the last year some relative newcomers have become massively popular, and the impacts of a year of digital shopping are clear:

Their Favorite Place to Buy Clothing

Among 13-39-year-olds

  1. Amazon
  2. Walmart
  3. Shein
  4. Nike
  5. Kohl’s
  6. Old Navy
  7. Thrift stores / Goodwill
  8. Target
  9. Ross
  10. Forever 21
  11. H&M
  12. Macy’s
  13. American Eagle
  14. Fashion Nova
  15. Mall / Shopping center

Amazon is at the top of the ranking. When we asked them the same question last year, the ecommerce giant ranked in the second spot, but this year they were the company who knocked Walmart into second place. When we looked at the reasons why young consumers named Amazon as a favorite place to buy clothing, the variety of options, convenience, and affordability were among the responses. Respondents who listed Walmart as their favorite place to shop also said they appreciated the retailer’s options and costs. Looking at their top 15 rankings, it’s evident that affordability and buying clothes within their budget range is still important to them. Of course, there’s mainstays like Nike, who make the top rankings every year, but companies with inexpensive options, like Walmart and Target, fast fashion brands, and thrift stores continue to dominate the list.

For the first time, Shein has made Gen Z and Millennials’ top five rankings, taking the third spot—and outpacing other fast fashion brands like Forever 21, H&M, American Eagle, and Fashion Nova. That’s certainly a shift for the Chinese fast fashion brand, which was number 15 on our ranking last year. Once again, affordability was one of the reasons respondents said Shein was their favorite, along with having “cute” options. The popularity increase for Shein is a gamechanger for the industry.

Let’s take a quick look at the brand’s rise in the last year, shall we? According to Earnest Research, Shein has become one of the top trafficked sites across all fashion and apparel sites worldwide—a spot formerly held by Nike and H&M. The data shows that the brand has doubled its fast fashion sales, jumping from 13% at the beginning of the year to 28% as of June. Meanwhile, analytics firm App Annie found that the retailer surpassed Amazon as the most downloaded iPhone shopping app in the U.S. in May. App installs for Shein saw a 78% increase compared to the same period in 2020. Sensor Tower notes that the features Shein is constantly adding—including new videos on product pages, sorting features for flash sales, and clothing categories organized by fashion trends—are responsible for their ability to stay relevant with young consumers who are looking for affordability and trendy apparel (like “cottagecore,” Y2K aesthetics, and more). It is currently the most-mentioned brand on TikTok, and the hashtag #shein has a whopping 13.2 billion views. And the brand hasn’t ignored that growth either: Building on their success, they’ve started coming up with ways to generate excitement for the brand like creating a reality competition show with big-name fashion designers and celebs like Christian Siriano and Khloé Kardashian.

The strategy has been a major hit among younger shoppers, and Shein is actually at the top of the ranking of favorite places to buy clothes for Gen Z:

Shein taking the top for Gen Z just further proves its massive popularity among teens and young twenty-somethings. Meanwhile, it ranks sixth for Millennials, which is notable since this is the first time the brand made it to higher rankings on the list for both generations—and it’s the only fast fashion brand to make the top 10 for Millennials. Walmart took the top spot for Millennials, which is the same as last year’s rankings, and the fact that Walmart has been able to stay in young consumers’ overall top rankings, and remain the number one place to shop for Millennials, shows that the retailer is able to maintain relevance among that demographic when it comes to prices and styles.

Looking at the rest of the lists, there are some similarities between the two generations, with Nike, Amazon, and Walmart appearing in their top 5. But it’s important to point out that Gen Z is more likely to shop at fast fashion brands. Aside from Shein being their top favorite place to shop for clothing, Forever 21, Rue 21, and H&M are all in their top 10. The generation is also more likely to shop at malls / shopping centers compared to Millennials, and the latter could be attributed to the fact that teens tend to see shopping as a social experience with their friends. Meanwhile, Millennials are more likely to shop at mass merchandise retailers or department chain stores like Walmart, Kohl’s, Ross, and Macy’s. Gen Z is driving the continuing fast fashion boom, and they’re flocking to the retailers that let them browse and shop digitally.

YPulse Business users can access the full fashion preferences and style behavioral report and data here.

Don’t have a YPulse Business account? Find out more here.