E-Commerce Among Gen Y: It’s a Boy Thing

The tendency to shop online increases with age and access to credit cards, but one in five young people age 8 to 24 did purchase something using the Internet last year, according to the Zandl Group.

Many barriers to e-commerce remain for young consumers, including their inability to examine the merchandise; their demand for immediate gratification; their lack of access to credit cards; the hassle of returning merchandise; and the solitary nature of online shopping, which cannot compete with the social aspect of heading to the mall with friends.

“Confidence in online shopping is growing, but most Gen Y shoppers still stick to product categories like entertainment software, books, and tickets that do not require trial or personal examination,” said Irma Zandl, president of Zandl Group. “When it comes to apparel and shoes, they gravitate to established brands widely distributed in retail stores, where they can try on the merchandise before they order it and easily return it if it doesn’t fit. Others check out merchandise online and go to a store to buy it, so having a Web site is becoming a more element in the marketing mix.”

The entertainment category continues to dominate the list of the most popular Web sites among young people. A few e-tailers (such as Amazon, eBay and Alloy.com) made the list, as did retailers (such as Gap.com, JCrew.com, and FootLocker.com), but most online marketers found it hard to compete with sites devoted to music, television, professional sports, video games, and pornography.

“Online marketers need to remember that most young people go online for entertainment,” Zandl said. “And they’ll leave your site in a second if it isn’t entertaining and easy to navigate.”

The Harris Interactive YouthPulse study also found that online shopping has yet to take permanent hold with Generation Y, although young people do express an interest in shopping online. The Harris study also found boys were more likely to buy holiday gifts online than girls.


Percent of Holiday
Shopping Done Online
Age Boys Girls
8-9 3% 2%
10-12 3% 6%
13-15 2% 2%
16-17 6% 3%
18-21 18% 7%
Source: Harris Interactive

“Boys seem more comfortable with the concept of e-commerce, and YouthPulse has consistently found that Generation Y wants to spend more online but doesn’t feel enabled to do so,” said John Geraci, Harris Interactive’s vice president for youth research. “On the whole, before age 19, kids and teens buy online using their parent’s credit cards, and this probably suppressed online holiday spending young people as it is awkward to borrow parents’ cards to buy gifts for them. We expect online shopping among youth to grow significantly as enabling strategies such as e-wallets, online purchase cards and bank accounts, and debit cards targeted to teens are adopted.”

While boys may be more interested in buying online, girls are more interested in buying, period. Spending on holiday gifts (whether online or offline) grows significantly with age. Children age 8 to 9 spent about $15 on average, while 18 to 21-year-olds spent about $130. Girls spent more than boys across all age ranges, according to the Harris study.

“It is clear that young girls are more generous than young boys when it comes to gift giving,” Geraci said. “The gap between girls’ and boys’ holiday spending actually widens with age. This is surprising in that we have also shown that boys have larger discretionary incomes than girls.”

Despite their unwillingness to adopt e-commerce, a study by Statistical Research Inc., (SRI) has found that girls are actually more avid Web users than boys.

Drawing on firsthand interviews with kids, SRI’s “How Children Use Media Technology” found that girls ages 8 to 17 spent more time online yesterday than boys (46 minutes vs. 35) and that they used the Internet on more days of the past week (2.7 days vs. 2.0). Girls are more likely to engage in a variety of key Internet activities on a daily basis, including sending/receiving email, instant messaging (twice as likely as boys), and downloading music.

“Overall, girls seem to be active builders of communities on the Web,” said David Tice, SRI’s director of client services. “They are more likely to use it to keep in touch, and they tend to value all communications media more highly. By contrast, boys appear to look at the Web more as a toy.”

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