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

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.