Why shoppers ditch traditional stores for online in their twenties

Somewhat more fun than scrolling at home.
Somewhat more fun than scrolling at home.
Image: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
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Shopping used to be something people had to do. Now, it’s something people do because they want to.

And many people don’t want to shop in the traditional retailers that once lined the streets of America. Brick-and-mortar shops are feeling the pressure as Amazon takes 50% of the growth in US online retail sales in 2017; many are struggling to cope.

But some recent surveys show that young people actually prefer an in-store shopping experience. In their 2017 Future of Retail report (pdf), communications company WalkerSands found that younger people actually prefer to shop in-store, seeking out discounts, personalized service, product demonstrations, and food and drink. By contrast, less than half (46%) of 26-to-45-year-olds want to shop in stores.

This gets even more pronounced the younger you get.

In a report, co-sponsored by the IBM Institute of Business Value and the National Retail Federation, 67% of kids under 21 prefer to shop in physical stores most of the time. Which is all the more interesting as these kids don’t remember a world before the internet or social media. The report suggests that there’s still hope for traditional shops in an Amazon world.

So when do people stop going to stores and why?

Teenagers spend most of their money on takeout food, clothes, entertainment and accessories, not on household staples and other basic items that have shifted online. If they do shop online, they use their parents’ Amazon Prime accounts because most teens do not have credit cards. This may also be a reason why they do most of their shopping in stores. Younger adults and teens shop for entertainment so they seek out stores that offer experiences—witness the rise of “the drop” in retail.

While superficially it may look like those currently under 25 might grow into adults who prefer stores to e-commerce, it’s dangerous to assume that brick-and-mortar retailing can make a comeback just by waiting out the demographics. Teens and young people simply don’t have to buy as much boring stuff as older adults do.

People stop going into stores when they become parents—which starts in your late twenties for most Americans.

In the years when lives are busy with balancing children and careers, people want convenience and a way to buy back time. As any parent knows, everything changes when kids arrive. Parents shop a lot more online, spending 61% more money, 75% more time, and a larger share of their budget than people who don’t have kids. As younger people make the transition to adulthood, they, too, will need to buy more of the basics, more often.

And fun fact: parents are also twice as likely than non-parents to buy something online after drinking, according to a survey by e-commerce platform vendor BigCommerce.