Does Online Shopping Click With Young Adults?

by Steve Crabtree, Contributing Editor

Anyone who has spent any time in the mall over the past two weeks is well aware that holiday shoppers aren't staying home in droves to make the bulk of their purchases online. Online retailers face some of the same basic marketing questions as other retailers, one of the biggest being -- who's likely to come calling? Are tech-savvy young adults, for example, more likely to turn to the Internet for at least some of their Christmas presents?

Actually, Gallup data* show the percentage of young adults who say they are likely to shop online for Christmas gifts is similar to the percentages of Americans in other age groups, except those 65 and older, who are the least likely age group to shop online. Thirty-four percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are either "very" or "somewhat likely" to use "online shopping on the Internet" for Christmas gifts this year. That compares with 38% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 30% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 9% of those aged 65 and older.

What's more, the likelihood to buy Christmas presents online seems to have leveled off somewhat among young adults this holiday season. The percentage of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 who say they are at least somewhat likely to use "online shopping on the Internet" to do Christmas shopping is essentially the same now (34%) as it was in 2002. However, there has been an apparent rise in the percentage of Americans in this age group who now say they are very likely to Christmas shop online, from 14% in 2002 to 21% this year (though the increase is not statistically significant).  

So where are young adults going for Christmas gifts? The poll asked respondents about the likelihood of Christmas shopping in a variety of possible venues in addition to online retailers, including department stores, discount stores, and mail-order catalogs. Eighty-three percent of young adults are at least somewhat likely to shop in department stores and 72% in specialty stores. Smaller percentages of 18- to 29-year-olds say they are likely to shop in discount stores (64%) or use mail-order catalogs (20%). 

Kurt Deneen, a Gallup retail industry expert, notes that young adults are the most likely of any age group to be unmarried. Hence, they're accustomed to shopping mostly for themselves rather than family members, and value trends and fashion over convenience. "This age group is typically aspirational in their shopping, wanting the latest and most fashion-forward products," Deneen says. "You best gain this awareness when shopping the store environment, versus the online experience."

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 5-8, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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