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Ecommerce Evolution: Gen Z Vs Millennial

Online shopping has become part and parcel of our daily lives. But not everyone uses it the same way - just ask my relatives, who frequently buy everything from cleaning supplies to jewellery on Facebook Live, whereas I primarily stick to e-commerce websites.

Some of the differences may be generational - according to a survey of 2,400 Southeast Asian Gen Zs, nearly 70% of Gen Zs use e-commerce platforms to discover and research new products.

My colleague, Kai, who is a whole Chinese zodiac cycle younger than me and a full-fledged Gen Z, says digital savviness, coupled with the use of “infinite scrolling” on e-commerce apps, sees his fellow Gen Zs being able to spend hours on such platforms.

Below, here’s how the data stacks up against our lived experiences as a millennial and a Gen Z:

Almost 3 in 4 Gen Z use e-commerce platforms as a point of discovery and research. Thoughts?

Diane: Despite my dependence on e-commerce sites for purchasing products I’m already familiar with, I can’t quite relate - I see them as a place to buy, not discover, products unless I’m getting something relatively low-stakes and cheap, like trash bags or a $2 headband. I usually buy things based on word of mouth or eep - based on my trips to the mall. Old habits really do die hard when you’re a mid-1980s millennial.

Kai: Gen Z really does it better for this. I remember when I was looking for a weighing scale once, and ended up having an “Intelligent Egg Boiler” being recommended to me before I checked out. The nifty gadget allows you to choose the kind of doneness (soft boiled, steamed, hard boiled, and more) for your eggs. You definitely wouldn’t experience that via a trip to the mall 🫣

And how do you know if the new limited edition pandan milk tastes good?! I refer to the efforts of my fellow researchers who've tried and tested it and left their comments online - pages and pages of research at hand.

Shopping online vs. offline: Which is better?

Diane: Online, for sure. Again, I might have grown up in a generation who spent their formative years hanging out in shopping centres, but as a frazzled parent-to-be, I buy almost all my daily essentials, like toiletries or household goods, on e-commerce sites. True, sometimes it’s cheaper to get these at the chapalang shop but spending a few additional cents to save time (and to spare myself the struggle of lugging them home) is worth it. I guess this is what they mean when they say that your lifestyle changes after you start accumulating “adult money”.

Kai: As a Gen Z who grew up online, I can definitely acknowledge the ease of convenience via online shopping, but nothing beats feeling and inspecting the quality of goods in your hands when you shop in person. Plus, growing up, my parents never believed in paying extra for taxis or delivery, because “I have legs and arms to settle all that”. Some of their thriftiness got ingrained in me, because I can see how all those hidden delivery fees add up over multiple purchases!

Also, “adult money” or not, I don’t like shopping online for things I consume orally such as my groceries and supplements. If I’m going to be the one ingesting these things, I’d rather be able to choose the exact packet of soymilk I’m taking from the shelf.


To what extent do you need to see something in person before committing to a purchase? 

Diane: Eh, hardly. Would you believe that I almost bought my wedding dress on Taobao? I guess I fit into the millennial stereotype of being so preoccupied with “adulting” - and who hates crowds/interacting with people so much - that I’d rather just have things delivered to my doorstep. Honestly, the only reason I went the boutique route is that my Chinese literacy is terrible. Otherwise, I wouldn’t mind just returning the dress or selling it on Carousell if it didn’t fit. 

Kai: Spot on with the clothes! I hate the hassle of returning things - if I’m spending time shopping for clothes, I better choose the best fit in the first round. But if it’s random stuff like a weighing scale or disposable masks, I’ll just cop them online after reading reviews. 

Diane: Okay, as someone with back pain, I have a caveat. Anything you need to sit or lie down on - be it a mattress, a chair, or a couch - should not be purchased blindly online. You should at least try them in a brick-and-mortar shop before buying them online (or looking for a pre-loved version!) later. 


What are some things you ONLY buy online? 

Diane: Groceries. My husband is the opposite though, he prefers buying things at the supermarket. But he also drives and has stronger arms than me so carrying home a pack of tissue boxes or a bottle of milk is no biggie for him. 

Kai: Miscellaneous items like facial sheet masks, socks and tissue boxes. I can always get them cheaper via stacking vouchers or keeping an 👀 out for flash sales.


How about things you NEVER buy online? 

Kai: More pricey items such as an Apple watch or monitor. I’m deathly afraid of these items getting knocked around while out for delivery, and I would prefer to be the last one checking and handling them after I pay in store. I’ve also witnessed delivery men tossing my packages through the gate even with dozens of FRAGILE stickers plastered all over them. All that anxiety is a no no for me!

Denise: I’d buy an Apple Watch or an iMac on the Apple website, but I’d never buy one on an e-commerce site. Yeah sure, there are authorised resellers and all but I grew up with so much piracy that a part of me is still skeptical about whether their wares are real or are knockoffs. 

Shopee’s survey also reported that one in three Gen Zs would spend at least five days researching their purchases, reading reviews and watching product demonstrations (27%), reading about product features and specifications (24%), and pricing information (14%). While they take their time to conduct in-depth research for their purchases, a seamless return and refund process, along with next-day delivery services, emerge as top considerations for carting out.

Diane: Five days?? I guess impulse shopping isn’t a thing with most Gen Zs huh.  

Kai: 😶Too guilty. With a wealth of information at my fingertips, I want to ensure I’m getting the best bang for my buck. And sometimes while I’m still doing my research, there are random flash sales which drastically reduce the price of the product I’m eyeing.

8 in 10 Gen Zs seek an engaging and entertaining e-commerce shopping experience

Diane: Buying things on livestream is an absolute no for me - it’s way too stressful to compete with other buyers. But I know tonnes of millennials who LOVE the adrenaline rush and the funny personalities of the livestreamers. Maybe it appeals to our latent nostalgia for the home shopping TV channel.

Kai: Can’t relate… I’ve never bought anything from a livestream before. The whole point of e-commerce is to be able to browse items at your own leisurely pace, not watch someone yammer on about a product.

Also, I don’t trust the reviews of livestreamers - after all they are trying to persuade you to buy their product! Maybe I’m just not that into the shopping experience, because I just want to “add to cart”, “pay” and move on with my life.

More than 56% of Gen Zs cross over from social commerce to e-commerce platforms to complete their purchases

Kai: You know how our phones “listen” to us and targeted ads about “xyz” come your way when you were just talking about them? I admit I’ve caved to such ads on social media platforms, like TikTok and Instagram, and checked out after the links brought me to e-commerce sites. The entire process is so seamless that you don’t stop to think sometimes!

Diane: Call me unadventurous because I don’t trust Instagram ads so I’ve literally never done this. 

64% of Gen Zs chose e-commerce as their most preferred purchase channel 

Kai: I can definitely see the appeal: user recommendations, reviews, product demonstrations, and offers are all neatly packaged on the same page. I also don’t have to wait for a sales assistant to be available. Unless you prefer a human touch, e-commerce is pretty much the “it” thing now.

Diane: If there’s one thing millennials and Gen Z have in common, it’s our disdain for transactional/transitional human interaction, so I have to agree with you there. I love buying things like dish sponges in bulk without having to deal with crowded aisles or grumpy cashiers.


7 in 10 Gen Zs prefer a variety of new payment modes such as BNPL and mobile wallets

Kai: My parents and grandparents see digital payment modes like BNPL and mobile wallets as red flags. In the name of being financially prudent, I can see why. BNPL is basically another form of a credit card, and there are harsh penalties for defaulting on payments. Some mobile wallets also don’t allow withdrawals after you top up, so you’re “forced” to spend the amount already inside.

But Gen Zs (including myself) want instant gratification, so I’ve used them to make a big-ticket purchase and pay in installments. I feel that as long as you’re disciplined and pay on time, it’s just another tool in your purchasing power.

Diane: Call me “mum” because BNPL seems seriously sketchy. Although that might just be because I’ve reached the age where I’m comfortable handling purchases in a certain way and therefore don’t see the need to try new methods. Oh no, am I old? What’s the appeal of using BNPL and mobile wallets over paying for things upfront?

Kai: It’s a mix of minimising the dent in your wallet and claiming offers only available via those payment methods. I may not be able to drop $1,200 on a new laptop now, but $100 definitely sounds more manageable (albeit over 12 months). And I might get to stack vouchers that are only obtainable if I pay using BNPL or a mobile wallet, hence giving me further discounts. I guess it’s ✨#GenZMath

Speaking of laptops, do you make big purchases on a phone or on a laptop? 

Diane: I stumbled across this meme about how millennials use laptops for “important purchases”, while Gen Z are totally cool with buying plane tickets online. OPINIONS? 

Kai: Haha, agreed… After all, isn’t a phone just a mini-laptop nowadays? With apps like Skyscanner and Klook, I could buy air tickets to my next getaway in the blink of an eye.

Diane: What in the world, no. Just seeing JC students writing their GP papers on an iPad via Google Drive blows my mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if they one day grow up to apply for bank loans using an app! 

I guess my generation is so scarred by the memory of using the internet on our Blackberries and Sony Ericsson phones that most of us would never dream of making a big purchase or doing “important things” on anything other than a laptop/desktop. But I know people (mostly younger than me) who have no problem buying plane tickets using a mobile app. 

Kai: Kudos to the UI/UX designers who make the entire process smooth like butter. And with wearable tech like Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Vision Pro out in stores now, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start buying plane tickets on our “glasses” sometime in the near future.

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