The Young, Alas, Don’t Share Gen X’s Passion For E-Commerce

Written by Fred J. Aun
February 4th, 2009

Retailers counting on a bright E-Commerce future should pray it was empty pockets, not Internet boredom or burnout, that caused 12- to -17-year-olds to buy less online last year than they did in 2005.

In a new report, the Pew Internet and American Life Project says said 38 percent of teens reported they bought something online in 2008. A similar study conducted by Pew in 2005 found that 41 percent of teens were involved in online shopping. Is it a trend? Will it carry forward to when the youngsters grow up?

As Pew Research Assistant Sydney Jones pointed out, teens probably do less online shopping than adults because they usually lack something rather important to E-Commerce participation: money. Nevertheless, the 3 percent decline in teen online shopping isn’t a statistic likely to be welcomed by nervous retailers hoping that the E-Commerce days ahead will be rosy.

Unfortunately, a similar picture can be painted when one takes a close look atafter viewing Pew’s figures relating to “Generation Y,” which Pew has defined as the Internet-savvy 18-to-32-year-olds who should be using the Web to buy just about everything. (Note: Definitions of Gen Y run the gamut, with some including 12-year-olds in that term. But Pew is starting a bit older.) When it comes to embracing online shopping, Gen Y has not kept pace with the E-Commerce lovin’ 32-to-44-year year-old crew in Generation X crew, according to Pew.

In 2005, Gen X and Gen Y were about equal in their propensity to shop online. Back then, 68 percent of those in Gen Y were buying stuff on the Web. The figure for Gen X was virtually identical: 69 percent. But wWhile Pew found that 80 percent of Gen X was regularly shopping on the Web in 2008, the Generation Y number remained relatively flat, compared to 2005, at 71 percent.

Noting Pew was not in the business of drawing conclusions from its numbers or making predictions, Jones nevertheless suggested that maybe Gen X “suddenly decided to start buying more.” Still, whatever it was that sparked Gen X to increase its E-Commerce activity didn’t spread to either the teen crowd or to Gen Y. “Gen x X seems to have pulled way ahead, while Gen Y stayed about the same,” Jones said Jones. “There is still a very large percentage of Gen Y doing those activities; it’s just significantly less than Gen X.”

The finding that they aren’t buying as much online as the older generation doesn’t mean Gen Y is steering clear of digital activity. Gen Y’s participation in online gaming, online videos, online job hunting, instant messaging, social network sites, music downloading, blogging and virtual worlds far outpaces that of those in Gen X, according to Pew. That probably means those Web 2.0 activities are the place to be for retail advertisers hoping to open the seemingly tight wallets of Gen Y and their younger siblings.


4 Comments | Read The Young, Alas, Don’t Share Gen X’s Passion For E-Commerce

  1. Boomer Says:

    Uh, maybe Gen Y does not shop much online because they can’t — not many under-18s have credit cards and without a credit card you basically can’t purchase anything online. Except for iTunes, for which there are easy-to-obtain gift cards available from millions of retail locations. (I suspect iTunes gift cards are probably the most popular gift for teens, too. They are almost like a currency among the Gen Y crowd.)

  2. Evan Schuman Says:

    Editor’s Note: It’s a fair point, but it’s being somewhat literal. Teens and tweens influence purchases very sharply. I can say that my 11-year-old daughter browses the Web for purchases–for herself, family members, friends, helping others find items, etc.–extensively. She may be using my credit card (gulp!), but she’s clearly engaging in E-Commerce activity, in the same way that the prior generation’s 11-year-olds did at the mall.
    If you doubt the retail influence of that group, you’ll fooling yourself.

  3. Fiona Brichaut Says:

    What do teens want most? Music, games and video. What are they downloading for free? Music, games and video.

    Perhaps todays teens are just more savvy about illegal downloading than they were in 2005. I know my teens are. In other words, more illegal downloading means less money spent on these items by teens online.

  4. Dave Sohigian Says:

    I think this is very valid. And I agree that the WAY that Millennials want to purchase is different from older generations. One of the main problems is that the industry has not given them the alternatives to purchase the way they want to. iTunes is certainly a start, but until the entertainment industry realizes that what teens are doing is not “stealing” they will never understand how to really get them to buy stuff.


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