Two Must-Read Insights About Gen Z and Millennial Customers for DTC eCommerce Brands
October 30, 2021
May 10, 2023
min read

Two Must-Read Insights About Gen Z and Millennial Customers for DTC eCommerce Brands

The Cowen annual survey of Millenials and Gen Z is a treasure trove of insight for DTC brands and founders - the complete report is 132 pages (!) of raw data and charts, covering everything from attitudes toward brands, shopping preferences and more. After sifting through all the data, there are two key data points that I found most actionable for DTC e-commerce founders:

1. People across all age ranges have dramatically increased their following of brands on social media in the past year, and channel preferences are shifting.

Most of you are already spending considerable time, effort, and money attracting customers on social media channels. And while iOS 14 may have gotten the lion's share of media coverage, the underlying shifts in consumer behavior may be even more important to pay attention to as you decide where and how to spend your money going forward. Here's the raw data on how usage is shifting:

Q: Do You Follow Any Brands/Businesses On The Following Social Networking Sites Or Apps? Values indicate percentage of "YES" Responses Source: Cowen Millenial Tracker Survey


  • YoY changes are most dramatic in 25+
  • Pinterest following has risen dramatically for everyone with massive jumps for 45-54 year olds (+71%) and 35-44 year olds (+30%)
  • TikTok is crushing it!  It’s second only to Instagram among 18-24 year olds and has significant interest among 25 - 44 year olds


  • If you're not already establishing a presence on TikTok, start today.
  • Ramp up your Pinterest game, especially if your customers skew a touch older.
  • Make sure it's easy for customers to find you on social and encourage them to follow you. Direct calls to action in emails, pop-ups and in prominent locations on your site are a must.
  • As your social following grows, find ways to leverage your audience in paid ad buys. Test promoting organic posts as ad creative and use your following as a seed audience for lookalike targeting on channels that support it.

2. Younger customers increasingly want to pay you with something other than a credit card

Preference for online payment methods dramatically shifted in the past year.  Preference for Alternative Payment Methods (APM) rose dramatically year over year among 18-34 year olds. APM includes direct pay from bank account, mobile wallets like PayPal, Apple, Google and BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later) services.

The change in preference for APM in one year is frankly stunning to me.  +17% among 18-24 year olds and +29% among 25-34 year olds!?  Wow. If you aren’t offering these at checkout you are definitely missing out on sales.  Here's the raw data:

Q: What is your preferred payment method for online purchases? Source: Cowen Millennial Tracker Survey


  • Among younger customers (18-24), credit cards are rapidly falling out of favor, and it seems likely to me this trend will stay intact. It's much easier and far less intimidating to sign up for an Affirm account than it is to apply for a traditional credit card at this point.
  • 25-34 year olds didn't drop their credit card usage dramatically, but they did adopt APM in droves. The data doesn't break out which methods specifically were the primary drivers of this adoption, but it's probably a safe bet that BNPL services like Affirm, Afterpay, Klarna and others are leading the way.


  • Deploy APM solutions if you haven't already, and make sure you choose a BNPL option that your customers are most familiar with. If you have a large enough customer base, it may be worth running your own survey to understand which options are most popular with your customers. Pro tip: these services are all competing ferociously for market share. It may be possible to pit them against each other in a competitive selection process to minimize your transaction fees.
  • Explore pairing APM for subscription mechanics to get a triple win of customer happiness, lower processing fees and better customer retention.  

It can be easy to focus on platform and technology changes when everyone is shouting about them. But staying on top of broader customer behavior trends is a critical skill for e-commerce brand operators. Staying ahead of them and implementing actions quickly can yield meaningful gains in revenue, margin and profits that compound over time.

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