Gen Z Is Changing the Face of Retail

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In the early 1970s, thanks to a group of teenage friends at San Rafael High School in California who met daily at 4:20 p.m. to smoke cannabis, “420” emerged as code for lighting up. More than fifty years later, April 20 — or 4/20 — has become an unofficial holiday celebrated with festivals, community gatherings, and other events where people can gather and bond over a mutual love of weed.

As the cannabis market grows across the nation, an increasing number of consumers view the holiday as a reason to visit dispensaries and stock up on products. Not only does this boom in cannabis-related sales benefit the overall industry, but it also supplies retailers with abundant data regarding the purchasing habits of different demographics. Given the industry’s rapid evolution, it is imperative that businesses review this data to better understand consumers’ desires.


The habits and purchasing patterns of Generation Z — people born in 1997 or later — have impacted many industries globally, including cannabis. For the second consecutive year, the relative sales increase on 4/20 was higher for Gen Z consumers than for any other generation. In 2021, Gen Z shoppers purchased 168 percent more cannabis products than on previous Tuesdays that year. In comparison, millennials demonstrated a sales increase of 125 percent, Generation X recorded a sales increase of 93 percent, and baby boomers purchased 91 percent more cannabis products than on previous Tuesdays during the year.

One year later, in 2022, Gen Z topped the 4/20 sales charts again. This year, Gen Z consumers bought 212 percent more cannabis products than on previous Wednesdays.

Meanwhile, millennials recorded a sales increase of 151 percent, Gen X sparked a sales boost of 127 percent, and baby boomers purchased 130 percent more cannabis products than on previous Wednesdays this year.

As more Gen Z consumers ascend into the adult population and become eligible to purchase medical and recreational cannabis products, this group of young consumers likely will be the most avid shoppers every April 20. Therefore, emerging and established brands would be wise to explore ways to reach and engage the growing consumer age cohort.

Given Gen Z is purchasing more products on April 20, the holiday provides a wealth of information about purchasing patterns. Most notably, data indicates the purchasing trends for male and female Gen Z consumers are similar. On April 20, 2022, the average basket size for female Gen Z customers increased by 25 percent compared to the previous four Wednesdays. Similarly, the average basket size of male Gen Z customers increased by 35 percent for the same period. While basket sizes grew, the average price of each item continued to decrease. Average item prices decreased significantly for both genders on 4/20 this year, falling by $4.67 among female customers and $4.41 among male customers.

Rising basket prices coupled with decreasing average item prices indicate Gen Z consumers prefer to purchase more lower-priced items instead of fewer premium, high-priced products, at least on 4/20. This year, Gen Z basket contents for both male and female customers rose by 1.3 items. In short, younger consumers appear to want to get the most “bang for their buck” as they celebrate. Therefore, as retailers develop marketing plans to attract Gen Z, they may want to prioritize advertising moderately priced items or offering bundles that allow shoppers to buy multiple products at once.

Let’s take a closer look at which items they’re buying. The infused beverage industry is growing in North American markets, and Gen Z consumers are leading the trend, quintupling their spend on 4/20 compared to previous Wednesdays. Similarly, Gen Z’s edibles and pre-rolls purchases rose by more than 300 percent. On the other hand, vapor pen sales increased much less spectacularly. This outcome is somewhat surprising, considering Gen Z consumers have the highest wallet share in the category on any given day in most American markets. The data may indicate Gen Z consumers are more focused on purchasing new products than stocking up on items they already own.

Gen Z consumers are the future of the cannabis industry. The generation has grown up in a society increasingly supportive of legalizing the plant and exploring its benefits. Additionally, Gen Z consumers were born into an era when large-scale, commercial 4/20 celebrations are commonplace, and they have campaigned to make cannabis’s “high holy day” an official holiday. Given the atmosphere in which the generation has been raised, members are more willing to embrace 4/20 with open arms. While they may not have the same amount of disposable income as older generations, they are eager to spend what they do have on 4/20 in pursuit of diversifying their collection of cannabis products. As more Gen Z shoppers reach the age at which they legally can purchase the plant, businesses need to understand what these young customers seek.


Cy Scott is cofounder and chief executive officer at Headset Inc., which turns retail data into real-time market insights. Previously, he co-founded cannabis information network Leafly, obtained Kelly Blue Book’s first patent, and assisted TEN: The Enthusiast Network in transitioning publications including MotorTrend and Automobile from print to digital.



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