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Sephora tweens to spending machines: Capturing the emerging buying power of Gen Alpha

Claire Shalbrack
Claire Shalbrack
Managing Director and Partner
7 min read
4 April 2024

If you or a loved one has been impacted by the recent influx of middle schoolers raiding the skincare shelves at your local Sephora, you aren’t alone. The “Sephora tweens” phenomenon has garnered heavy attention (and a dose of criticism) across social media, news outlets, and pop culture in recent months—and there’s a lot more to the conversation than a simple “kids these days.” 

From disgruntled fellow shoppers TikToking their experience shopping for makeup among rowdy twelve-year-olds to parents balking at the prices of their tweens’ Drunk Elephant-laden wish lists, the impact of this generation’s entrance into consumerism sparks a variety of questions. Does a pre-teen really need a hyaluronic acid serum and an eight-step skincare routine? That’s for dermatologists to answer. At DEPT®, we’re wondering what the Sephora tween sensation means for brands—and how this represents Generation Alpha’s budding spending power. 

Meet your newest shoppers

Gen Alpha is the generation following Gen Z, born between 2010 and 2024. The oldest members of this cohort are just now entering their teenage years. With Millennial parents and screens in their hands since toddlerhood, these so-called “iPad kids” aren’t just digitally native—some are calling them “digital ninjas.” Growing up in a fully digitised world, this generation is less Gen Z 2.0 and more Gen Z on steroids. 

The Alphas are the fastest growing generation yet, with more than 2.8 million new additions born each week. By 2025, these kids will number approximately 2 billion—the largest and most diverse generation in history. Although they are young, this group already has incredible purchasing power that’s only expected to grow. In fact, Australian research firm McCrindle projects Alphas’ economic footprint to reach $5.46 trillion before the end of the decade. 

According to McCrindle researchers: “​​Generation Alpha are ‘upagers’ in many ways: physical maturity is onseting earlier so adolescence for them will begin earlier—but beyond the physical, social, and psychological, educational and even commercial sophistication also begin earlier.” 

As “upagers,” older members of Gen Alpha tend to be interested in more “grown-up” brands and retailers versus those specifically geared toward young teens. They love Netflix and Nike, Amazon and Apple. So where does Sephora fit in? 

Why Sephora (and Lululemon … and Stanley … and Starbucks)?

It’s not out of the ordinary for tweens and teens to begin dabbling with makeup and skincare—though Millennials today shudder at the thought of the astringent-heavy skincare routines that promised to keep their preteen pimples at bay. But as the societal obsession with skincare and anti-aging reaches a near 2000s-diet-culture level, Gen Alpha’s interest in skin and beauty products is unlike what we’ve seen from kids before. 

This generation is influenced by both the buying habits of their Millennial parents and the social media and social entertainment content they consume. While many Alphas are probably still too young to be scrolling through TikTok, YouTube’s parental controls have made it a mainstay for kids and teens online. Through watching videos from their favourite creators and influencers, YouTube has become the generations’ primary path to brand discovery according to GWI. 

From Gen Z creators with “big sister energy” to toy unboxing influencers, Gen Alpha has been raised on content that centres around products. One of their primary forms of entertainment is fuelled by brand messaging and influence. And while the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) makes it more difficult for brands to directly target their advertising to kids under 13, McCrindle points out: “[Gen Alpha] interact with brands that might be beyond their particular targeting because they’ve got access to information and content consumption beyond their age, which makes them very brand conscious.”

All of this together means the love for Sephora makes a lot of sense. It’s home to the popular brands featured in Get Ready With Me videos and product reviews, allowing this age group to try and buy the products that hold social capital online. It’s a store marketed towards women rather than pre-teen girls, an enticing quality for a cohort that feels older than their years. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s a retailer that allows interaction and product exploration through never-ending testers and samples. 

The importance of in-store experimentation

When Millennials were Gen Alpha’s age, stores like Limited Too and Claire’s were more than just places to shop. They acted as a kind of “third place,” a space designed for tweens and teens to explore products made just for them. Bright colours, fun patterns, trinkets, toys, jewellery, and more—these retailers gave members of this specific age group a place they were welcome and encouraged to be themselves. 

Today, spots like these are far less popular or non-existent. But even though the Alphas are digital ninjas doesn’t mean they don’t need physical places to go that aren’t home or school. In fact, GWI found that members of this generation are craving more in-person experiences and interactions versus online than they were in previous years. 

The National Retail Federation says of the Alphas: “Members of this generation lean hard into experiences, preferring to frequent shops where they can tinker with tech or be hands-on with a new gadget.” 

This preference for in-person experiences and interactions is crucial for brands to understand. While Gen Alpha may be digitally savvy, they still value the tangible and sensory aspects of shopping. Sephora’s success with Gen Alpha can be attributed to its ability to create a unique and immersive shopping experience. The store’s sleek and modern aesthetic, combined with knowledgeable beauty advisors, creates an environment that feels exclusive and aspirational. Gen Alpha wants to be a part of this world of beauty, maturity, and self-expression, and Sephora provides the space for them to do so while simultaneously interacting with the products they see most on social media. 

Creating connections for future loyalty

The Sephora tween craze is emblematic of this maturing generation’s need for brands to take them seriously, and the opportunity for retailers to make space for them. As they grow into their spending power, Gen Alpha’s financial influence only stands to take off—and it’s time to meet them where they are with age-appropriate experiences both online and offline.

Brand experiences for Gen Alpha should be seamless, allowing them to connect their digital worlds and online interests with IRL events and opportunities. For example, Claire’s has created its own immersive, digital world on Roblox that allows users to socialise and play in an online environment, while getting excited about products sold in-store.

In-store, brands can deliver Gen Alpha-enticing experiences by creating opportunities for customisation and hands-on, interactive product discovery. Jewellery brand Kendra Scott has begun capturing the hearts of younger shoppers by framing its stores as a place for connection, celebration, and events. Shoppers can host parties and customise their own pieces at the Colour Bar®—a memory-maker that lets shoppers combine trendy jewellery with individual flair.

Adapting to Alphas’ interests

As Generation Alpha continues to grow and assert their spending power, the emergence of Sephora Tweens offers valuable insights into their shopping interests and behaviours. While it may be tempting to dismiss tweens buying BB creams or cringe at their $40 water bottles, brands should instead pay attention and adapt. This maturing generation demands to be taken seriously, and retailers have the opportunity to create age-appropriate experiences both online and offline.

By seamlessly connecting their digital worlds with real-life events and offering customization and interactive product discovery, brands can capture the hearts and loyalty of Gen Alpha. As we witness the impending financial impact of this cohort, it’s clear that understanding and catering to their unique needs will be essential for building long-term loyalty and interest over the coming years.


Managing Director and Partner

Claire Shalbrack