Study: Teens Browse but Don’t Buy

Teen-agers frequently access the Internet, spend a lot of time there and hold considerable purchasing clout, but they still don’t buy much online, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

While more than one-quarter of the 557 surveyed teen-agers ages 13 to 18 said they regularly go online to shop, only 2 percent said shopping was their primary reason for going on the Internet.

“Shopping isn’t an issue for teens,” said Mary Brett Whitfield, principal consultant and director based in Columbus, OH, for PricewaterhouseCoopers E-Retail Intelligence System.

“One of the issues is that they don’t have the payment mechanism to make the purchases. Very few teens have their own credit card and have to use their parents’ credit card to purchase online,” Whitfield said.

Conducted between April 26 and May 2, the survey found that 31 percent of teens with Internet access have bought a product from an online shopping site, compared with 76 percent of adult Internet users. Another 25 percent of online teens have shopped for goods on the Internet, but never bought.

In terms of purchases made online, the surveyed teen-agers opted for CDs and cassette tapes, clothing, books, computer software, and toys, in that order. Adult Internet users, on the other hand, bought books, CDs and cassette tapes, computer software, toys and clothing, respectively.

Although the results are discouraging news for online retailers, the study showed that teens are catching up with adults in terms of Internet adoption. Thirty-eight percent of teen-age online users go online more than once a day vs. 52 percent of adult Internet users. Another 24 percent of teens go online once a day, and 8 percent are online less than once a week.

Teens spend a lot of time online once they are connected, the study found. The duration of that online visit corresponds with the frequency of access, however. Teens who are online more than once a day are likely to spend an hour or more on a visit. By contrast, teens who access the Internet once a week are likely to spend less than a half-hour online.

“One of the things that online retailers can do is to target teens by making payment methods available so that teens can participate more easily in online shopping,” Whitfield said.

Sites like, and have sprung up in the past year to address that issue.

DoughNET last month announced a deal with to launch an ATM card for teens. This card will allow teens to withdraw money directly from their personal online bank accounts and buy online through DoughNET or withdraw cash from ATMs across the United States.

According to the survey, nearly 40 percent of these teens participate in online shopping activities like registering for e-mail newsletters; reading CD and movie reviews, celebrity interviews or fashion advice; and searching for online stores that carry a particular product or brand.

But teen-agers’ lack of independence as consumers is the biggest hindrance to online retailers, PricewaterhouseCoopers said.

When asked to identify the biggest challenges of shopping online, teen-agers pointed to the inability to touch and try products, and to parental disapproval for Internet purchase activity. The consulting firm said online retailers aiming for the teen-age market should also target parents.

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