By most accounts, the commercial internet was born in 1995—the same year as today’s high school seniors. That makes this Taylor Swift and Snapchat-loving generation of teens the first wave of Americans who have literally never known life without the modern web.
So if you’d expect anybody to feel more at home spending money online than at a brick and mortar store, it might be them. But you would also be wrong. The investment bankers at Piper Jaffray & Co., which has long tracked teenager consumer habits, recently asked more than 5,000 teens whether they prefer to do their shopping on the Internet or IRL. More than three quarters of both males and females said they preferred trekking the to the store (graph courtesy of Pew).
When it comes to their shopping habits, then, contemporary teens may not be some exotic tribe of digital natives after all. Obviously, this is good news for traditional retailers. Teens have tremendous spending power. They have inordinate sway over our cultural lives (again, Snapchat and Taylor Swift). And of course they’re tomorrow’s adults. Physical retail is already under siege from Amazon and the rest of the web. If it were going out of style with the kids, it would be a disaster.
Of course, teens aren’t like the rest of us. As Pew notes, they see shopping as a time to hang out with friends. And as Piper Jaffray has found, about 40% of their budgets are devoted to fashion—clothes, shoes, and accessories. Suffice to say, the eternal desire of 16-year-olds to hang out at Abercrombie with friends isn’t going to save all of retail, even if the local mall still has its place.
Jordan Wiessmann is an associate editor at The Atlantic. He has written for a number of publications, including The Washington Post and The National Law Journal.