Five-year-old Lyndon Arrington likes to call his older cousins and chat or Facetime. “He can scroll on my iPhone, and when he sees their photos, he’ll call them,” says his mother. “He’s been doing that for a year.”
The son of Andy and Devony Arrington of McKinney, Texas, Lyndon got his own Kindle device when he was three-and-a-half. With a Kindle, his mom can download age-appropriate programming, such as PBS Kids, that he can watch whenever he chooses. But he has no access to the internet.
According to research by GWI, an audience research company that annually surveys kids, about 96% of U.S. children ages 8-15—or 31 million youngsters—currently have phones. As for giving Lyndon his own phone, “I’m going to resist that as long as I can,” Arrington said. “And I’d rather it not be a smart phone.”
Lyndon zooms around the room while his mom is being interviewed for this article. During a pause in the conversation, he asks, “Mom, when do I get my own keyboard?”
Lyndon is a member of Generation Alpha, the individuals born from the mid-2010s through the mid-2020s and the first generation to be born entirely in the 21st century. While establishing the beginning and ending of the various generations is not an exact science, researchers value the distinctions, which help them understand how different age groups see the world and react to it.
Generation Alpha is the group to watch, according to Mark McCrindle, the Australian social researcher who coined the term that describes them. Around the world, about 2.7 million babies are born into this generation every week. By 2025, they will be two billion members strong and the largest generation in history, and already they have economic power. Last year, Bloomberg reported that these young shoppers have $360 million in disposable income annually.
They are influencing parental purchasing decisions–‘kidfluence’ as it’s being called.”
“We already see them having a lot of influence on purchasing even beyond their own spend and pocket money,” said McCrindle. “They are influencing parental purchasing decisions—‘kidfluence’ as it’s being called. They understand the pop culture. They’re on the websites, and they know what the latest trends are. They’re growing up in society where in many ways young people have more power than they used to.”
Generation Alpha is clearly the most technologically supplied generation in history. They’ve been “wired” from birth, which gives them influence and leverage. In addition, “they’ll be the most formally educated generation in history, and normally what follows education levels is earning levels,” he added. “We think that will make them the most materially supplied generation. They are quite unique in so many ways.”
Diversity is a standard for this group. During their young lives, women have always been in the workplace, inclusion is valued and a focus on equality is the norm.
By 2030, these newbies will make up 11% of the global workforce, McCrindle said, and will likely delay standard life markers, such as marriage, childbirth and retirement, as the previous generations have done. They’ll have smaller families, and they’ll live longer—most of them into the 22nd century.
There are five major characteristics that define Generation Alpha, according to McCrindle.
First, they’re global. “In the developed world, this generation is more globally connected and more culturally diverse,” he said. “And no longer is it just food trends, entertainment and fashion flowing west to east. It’s the reverse now, which is quite a shift from what we saw a decade ago.”
Second, they’re digital. Among their favorite websites are TikTok and WeChat, both of which are owned by Chinese companies. But they don’t just consume content, they create it using apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
By 2025, they will be two billion members strong and the largest generation in history.”
In addition, they’re visual. They prefer to share and receive content in a visual form, such as YouTube, rather than in written form. A recent Pew Research Center survey of American teens (13-17) found that their usage of text-heavy Facebook has declined in the past decade. Today, only 32% of teens report having used Facebook, compared to 2014-15 when 71% said they had used the channel. Twitter has seen a similar decline with only 23% of teens using the app today compared to 33% in 2014-15.
They’re also mobile. This refers not only to the technology they use but also their lifestyle. “They can study from anywhere just as their parents can work from anywhere,” McCrindle said. “We saw that during the pandemic.”
Finally, they’re social. “They go to their social media platforms not just for entertainment or social interaction but also for the news, updates on what’s happening and advice on decisions they have to make,” McCrindle said. “They aren’t turning to experts on the ‘authority channels.’ It’s their peer groups that have such influence.”
NEW GENERATION SHOPPERS
Generation Alphas are online today much more often than kids were even eight years ago. The share of young people who are online “almost constantly” has nearly doubled, from 24% in 2014-15 to 46% today, according to the Pew Research Center study. That means communicating with the newest consumers will require media beyond the traditional television, radio and print formats.
A large part of kids’ online time involves gaming, said Gabe Rowe, senior enterprise account executive for GWI, a market research company. Younger kids (ages 8-12) report that they spent two to four hours each day gaming, while older kids (ages 13-15) may devote six to eight hours to their favorite games.
“If retailers know they’re spending six to eight hours playing popular games like Fortnite or Minecraft and probably utilizing a service like Discord or Reddit, for example, it might make sense to spend a little more advertising dollars there,” Rowe said.
Despite their youth, Alphas are already influencing family food choices and making their own decisions about what they’ll eat for meals and snacks. A GWI survey found that 36% of U.S. children (ages 8-15) say they determine what food(s) they’ll have when it’s time to eat. Another 40% say they make that decision together with their parents, while parents make the food decisions for the remainder of those polled.
Plus, Gen Alpha is following in the activist footsteps of Gen Z and already holding brands and parents accountable. While parents consider themselves the voice of reason when it comes to family buying decisions, kids are often the information-gatherers, advocating for specific brands and sharing information about what is cool or important. When GWI surveyed parents of Alphas, 80% said their actions or purchasing decisions have been influenced by their offspring, who are engaged with issues that impact the environment, climate change and the future of the planet.
“Kids want to understand brands that support their needs and emotional needs,” said Rowe. “They aren’t loyal to a brand based on the [brand] name but on what the brand is doing from a social perspective. If you don’t have that social component within your branding, it will be hard to retain them as an ongoing customer. Brands that want to be relevant must demonstrate a clear global social purpose and engage Generation Alpha through social media.”
Instead of an older generation designing messages for them, “it’s better if we design messages with them and communicate through them if we want to connect with them,” said McCrindle. “They’re consuming a lot of advertising and messaging, and they are adept at screening it out. That’s a different mindset from the past where advertisers used their experience, tools and leverage to get results.”
Alpha is a more empowered generation growing up in a rapidly changing digital era, and “unless we engage with them in the process, we’re edging toward irrelevancy,” he added.
Brands that want to be relevant must demonstrate a clear global social purpose and engage Generation Alpha through social media.”
A digital upbringing provides Alphas with obvious advantages previous generations haven’t enjoyed. “They’re great at multitasking and shifting from one task to another,” said McCrindle. “They think quickly and consume quickly.”
Still, there are downsides. Compared to older generations, Alphas have demonstrated a deficit in social skills.
“Deeper thoughts and longer messaging, reflection and analysis and sometimes even critical thinking doesn’t come as naturally to them,” he said. “And when it comes to the ability to have a difficult conversation and resolve conflict or connect or step out of a comfort zone or meet someone new, that can create challenges.”
Of course, Generation Alpha is still young, and what will eventually come to define the group is uncertain.
While brands and retailers are considering how to attract and retain the interest of the newest generation, “let’s not forget their millennial parents in this equation,” said McCrindle. “Alphas are quickly approaching their teenage years, and we can’t ignore the influence of their parents. They’re at the life stage where their parents are still gatekeepers.”
One important thing to remember about millennial parents is that they are more health conscious, and “they’re guiding their children toward healthy eating and lifestyles,” he said. “They will support the brands that help them and their children flourish in life.”