How Mass Market Retailers Can Lure Gen Z From “Dupes”

Investment in social issues, showcasing authenticity on social media, and even embracing dupes can go a long way in appealing to Gen Z consumers

A young man unboxing a product in front of a camera.

Gen Zers don’t want to pay full price for their favorite mass market products, but they’re unwilling to wait until next season’s sale to get their hands on trending goods either. Dupes, or cheaper versions of popular mass market consumer goods, meld trendy with thrifty for Gen Zers.

Dupes have garnered major traction both on social media and in popular culture: #Dupe has received over three billion views on TikTok, and popular dupe products have featured trendy celebrities in advertisements during some of the most high-profile sporting events in the United States. They’re typically concentrated in retail and cosmetic spaces, where there’s a greater opportunity to undercut products with high markups. Some dupe giants like Shein, AliExpress, and Temu (part of Shanghai-based PDD Holdings Inc.) have received massive multi-million and billion valuations.

If Gen Zers can satisfy their appetite for fashion for a fraction of the price, they’re unlikely to pay big bucks for mass market retailers — but there are key methods retail leaders can deploy to lure Gen Z buyers.

Embrace dupes

Like fighting fire with fire, companies who embrace dupes of their products can capture the attention of deal-savvy buyers. Athleisurewear company Lululemon, for example, has allowed customers to swap their dupes of the brand's viral align legging for the real thing for free. About half of the guests who exchanged their dupes at Lululemon’s trade-in event in Los Angeles are new to the brand, according to Lululemon’s earnings call. Clothing titan Zara has a reverse image search functionality, easily allowing consumers to find dupes of their favorite styles. Others, like clothing company Ugg, even makes dupes of their own products. 

Invest in social issues

A whopping 91% of Gen Zers say they’ll pay extra for brands that support the causes they care about, according to Oliver Wyman Forum research. And over half say that they would pay 25% to 75% more for a good that supported a cause that they care about.

While fast fashion producers may be able to churn out similar products to more expensive brands, most cannot keep up with higher ethical and social standards without sacrificing the high speeds and low prices that make them appealing in the first place. By integrating social initiatives into the fabric of their brands, mass market producers can beat dupes without undercutting their costs.

Rare Beauty, a popular makeup brand founded by singer and actress Selena Gomez, should be another dupe target much like its peers thanks to a strong online presence and relatively high price point. However, consumers have keyed in on an important aspect of Rare Beauty’s business model which makes them less likely to seek out a dupe: its impressive initiatives on social issues. Positioning themselves as an inclusive and socially conscious brand, Rare Beauty has built an army of supporters by making diversity and inclusion an integral part of its brand. In addition to donating 1% of total sales to mental health initiatives, Rare Beauty also incorporates a unique packaging design so that their products are disability friendly. And while there are some products that dupe the cosmetic brand, they have gained significantly less traction on social media than products that dupe comparable brands. 

Showcase social investment and products on social media 

Like Rare Beauty, it’s important for mass market retailers to build a social media presence to showcase both their products and the social issues they’re investing in. Three-fifths of Gen Zers say they’re more likely to trust the quality of a company’s products and services if they use social media, and yet two-thirds of Fortune 100 companies aren’t there. And almost half of Gen Z says the content that convinces them to make purchases is the kind of short videos found on Snap, TikTok, and Instagram.

But dupe affordability is still a threat thanks to an uncertain economy. More than three-fourths of Gen Zers are seeking new products in a quest to find better deals, and 40% say they’re shopping online to find them. They’re also four times more likely than older consumers to find products on social media – a stage where dupes thrive.

Understand the Gen Z consumer

These deal-seeking habits have staying power, too – even if the economy improves. Gen Zers are notoriously price sensitive and disloyal to brands. On average, they are 20% more likely to switch brands if a cheaper option is available than the generations that preceded them. Even among Gen Z consumers who self-identify as brand loyalists, 56% would consider switching away from their “favorite” brand for one that was cheaper or of higher quality. 

While brands may be tempted to think that dupes are just Generation Z’s current internet fixation, they have the potential to disrupt the retail space in meaningful and permanent ways. Consumers will always seek out a cheaper product, and — in the wake of social media and the information economy — they’re sure to find it.  

Rolling out a trendy product isn’t enough to maintain a competitive market share and strong brand association. Instead, if mass market brands want to protect themselves from the dupe loop, they should share in Gen Z’s desire for authentic social justice efforts, integrating them into the core of their business model.