Image: Brandy Melville

Gradually over the past few years, the once-ubiquitous discussions about millennials are being replaced by an interest in the new kids on the block: generation Z – or, to give them a recently assigned alias – “zoomers.” According to most accounts, individuals in the “Gen Z” generation were born some time between 1997 and 2012 (although this varies – some estimates say the youngest zoomers were born as late as 2015). 

According to the influential Pew Foundation, Gen Z is defined as being: “More racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, and they are on track to be the most well-educated generation yet. They are also digital natives who have little or no memory of the world as it existed before smartphones.” But as with previous generations, the temptation is to lump this generation together and assume they all respond to similar experiences, attitudes and behaviors no matter where in the world they grow up.

Most notably, Gen Z has grown up in a digital world, saturated by technology. Media commentators tend to describe them as having similar consumption habits, creating a “global youth culture.” We wanted to challenge this one-size-fits-all approach, by focusing on one aspect of Gen Z: their use and experience of technology. With this in mind, we looked at Gen Z media use in three Asian countries: Japan (east Asia), Vietnam (south-east Asia) and United Arab Emirates (UAE in western Asia). 

The findings of our study – which has been published in a new book, Generation Z in Europe: Inputs, Insights and Implications – are summarized as follows … 

Are all digital natives the same?

Gen Z has been linked to hyperconnectivity, a constant attachment to their smartphones and the ability to easily learn new technologies and navigate websites and apps. When it comes to internet or mobile phone use, one-third of Gen Z-ers in Asia spend six hours or more a day on their phones and 36 percent of them say they “carefully curate” their online presence.

There are some minor differences in the online platforms used by Gen Z in each country. The Japanese use video-sharing websites (60.5 percent of respondents) the most and also play a lot of online games (50.7 percent). They also use social media every day – a recent survey found that Line was the most-used platform, followed by Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tik-Tok and Facebook. Live video broadcasting is also huge, with young people streaming on average between 300 and 500 minutes of content per month. In Vietnam, 99 percent of Gen Z report having a Facebook account and 77 percent are on local social networking app Zalo. Interestingly, though, 99 percent say they still watch TV every day – compared with their peers in Japan where only 12 percent watch TV regularly.

As one of the most advanced digital economies in the world, the UAE also has one of the highest smartphone adoption rates at 96 percent. Generally, Gen Z in the UAE use their smartphones for an average of around three hours a day. But here we see the influence of the culture within different countries, as it is reported that some male family members limit the ability of their female relatives to access social networks, reflecting the traditional gender divisions within the UAE and affecting how people socialize and interact.

When it comes to how much Gen Z-ers in different countries trust what they see online, there’s quite a difference across the three countries we surveyed. A survey from DecisionLab found that Vietnam’s generation Z reports a high level of skepticism about the internet. When it came to trusted sources of information, parents and “experts” topped the list at 72 percent, while just 13 percent reported trusting online reviews. 

In the UAE, concerns focus on smartphone security due to a national cybersecurity awareness programmed targeted at the younger generation.

How do zoomers shop?

When it comes to shopping, technology plays a key role in purchasing decisions across Asia. This manifests in different ways in the three countries. In Japan, the top three information sources that Gen Z used for purchase decisions were websites, such as online retailers (66.4 percent), family and friends (54.2 percent) and social media (40.9 percent).

Young people in Japan will search the internet to find information to support purchase decisions but also say they tend to discuss their intentions with their friends online before buying anything. Gen Z in Japan is greatly influenced in their brand selection by video content: they learn about new brands via video-based social media, such as YouTube or TikTok.

In Vietnam, by contrast, while Gen Z-ers also use the internet for shopping they reported being more likely to rely on their parents for advice when shopping for themselves. Meanwhile in UAE, research suggests that Gen Z-ers prefer the physical shopping experience. If they use technology, it’s more likely to be to find out where they can go to get what they want and compare prices and quality. The UAE has some of the most advanced shopping malls in the world, where physical and virtual worlds are integrated.

How to reach your market

As with the rest of the world, we found some common ground across Asia: technology and particularly social media is an important influence on the way that Zoomers interact and make choices in relation to shopping and work. But social media used by this cohort is also shaped by cultural and traditional patterns within each country. 

So, even within one continent, there are important differences within Gen Z in relation to the use, and the influence of, digital technology. We may be looking at a cohort of digital natives who have grown up with smartphones and social media technology, but it’s far too simplistic to talk about a single generation Z in relation to its characteristics and behavior. Advertisers take note – do this at your peril: to reach your market, you first have to know how they get their information.

Elodie Gentina is an associate professor of marketing at IÉSEG School of Management. Emma Parry is a professor of Human Resource Management at Cranfield University. (This article was initially published by The Conversation)