Americans’ consumption patterns have changed over the last decade, and that has a lot to do with Gen Z growing older and becoming more financially independent. But there’s another generation hiding under the surface that’s about to change consumer behaviors yet again, and they’re called Alphas.
Born anywhere between 2010 and 2025, Generation Alpha has at least a few more years until its identity comes to fruition. By demographers’ standards, Alphas are being born at the height of excess. They will age in an era dominated by direct-to-consumer brands, social channels designed to sell, and the ubiquitous Amazon.
Even Gen Z’ers can remember walking the aisles of Toys “R” Us or Gamestop when they were little, but that won’t be the case for the majority of Alphas. The internet made it possible to walk these “aisles” virtually while last-mile solutions allow same-day deliveries for Alphas, their parents, and anyone else.
However, the unique consumer identity of the babies, toddlers, and still-to-be-born children of Generation Alpha has yet to be determined. For now, it will be shaped by the toys, clothes, foods, and gadgets purchased by their parents.
Since Alphas are too young to make purchases for themselves, the products they use arguably say more about their parents or guardians than it does for them.
“There’s a subset of young, millennial moms who are invested in buying the best products they can afford for their kids,” said Heather Dretsch, an assistant professor of marketing at North Carolina State University. “As a result, the next generation of kids are going to have very similar tastes to that of their millennial parents when it comes to brands, unlike Gen Z.”
One of the most prominent examples of this is Ryan Kaji of Ryan’s World. The 9-year-old star has one of the most lucrative YouTube channels on the platform, but it’s his parents who run the channel and the marketing schema behind it. For now, brands will turn to his parents and parents of similar ages to wean this next generation of consumers.
Further, growing social channels and influencer marketing have created a mold for parenting that wasn’t around in the early 2000s. In an interview with Vox last year, millennial parent and author Sara Petersen explained that she noticed a stark difference between raising her first and last child.
“It felt like everyone was buying the same stuff back in 2012, the same playmats and plastic highchairs that were ugly, chunky, and only sold in primary colors… Now, in part thanks to Instagram, there’s an aesthetic shift toward natural wood tones, creams, and neutral pastel shades.”
And there’s the food and beverage industry, which has capitalized on the trends millennial parents are most familiar with. “You can tell Gen Alpha are kids of millennials because their snacks are filled with these labels [paleo, keto, probiotic, low carb, etc.],” tweeted Andrea Hernández, a food, and beverage trend analyst.
Legacy food brands like Beech-Nut and Gerber now have to play catch-up to newer DTC brands like Little Spoon that are doing better than ever after 2020’s e-commerce boom. Consumers have largely moved online and there’s little the above legacy brands can do other than alter their packaging and invest in social channels.
The “mom economy”
Parenting as an industry, or the “mom economy,” also isn’t a new phenomenon, explained Lisa Barnett, co-founder of Little Spoon, a direct-to-consumer baby and children’s meal brand. “There’s a new generation entering the life stage of being a parent,” she said, but the product hasn’t changed in nearly a century.
But if the product itself hasn’t changed, why advertise to millennials instead of their children? According to Dretsch, market research at the turn of the century pointed to millennials as the demographic with the most consumer power in the world.
Moreover, the advent of the “BuzzFeed internet” in the 2010s changed consumers’ conceptions of generational identity and stereotypes. Baby boomers are overwhelmingly wealthy and unapologetic, Gen Z loves TikTok and the latest social channels, and millennials are defined by their jaded youthfulness, liberalism, and even their student loans.
By the late 2020s, the identity and stereotypes of Alphas will become more clear and brands will have an opportunity to capitalize. And after glossing over nuances of personal identities, geography, race, and financial freedoms, Alphas will inevitably become “less of a collection of individuals than a commodity: to be processed into a manufactured unit, marketed and sold to clients,” said Mark McCridle, who’s credited with the term “Generation Alpha.”
Little research has gone into the characteristics of Gen Alpha and their potential consumer habits, but such is not the case for millennials, who may be the perfect forecasters for their children’s lives.
Alphas are getting older
Just as Gen Z separated from their parent’s identity and stereotypes, so will Gen Alpha. “An age group will become a generation if they have common experiences, concepts, and language or vocabulary that differs from the previous generations,” one researcher told Wired. Age delineations are also somewhat arbitrary, but the oldest Alphas are fast approaching their teen years and marketers are taking notice.
Roblox, a game that has been gaining steam for years now, appeals to Gen Z as well as Alphas. The game is played by millions of tweens daily and numerous f brands including Nike, Gucci, and Forever 21 are already on it.
Forever 21, which joined the platform back in December, created a “Forever 21 Shop City,” where users can pretend to manage a digital store and compete against others.
“By getting to these younger audiences early, they are building affinity to brands they most likely would not be aware of yet,” said Jenn Szekely, managing partner at Coley Porter Bell. “As a person with two children under the age of 13, I can tell you firsthand the amount of requests I get from them to purchase things from their visibility to brands and products in their online entertainment usage.”
Alphas have yet to make many decisions without their parents’ involvement, but platforms as large as Roblox are some of the first to entice an entire generation using brands and their products.
We’ll know a lot more in five, ten, or fifteen years about who Alphas are, but the connections they make right now with brands will stay with them for the long haul, argues Dretsch. “Those connections happen very naturally and almost non-consciously.”