January 28, 2001

It may be a case of looking, and researching, before leaping.

More than half (54%) of online young people surveyed around the globe report using the Internet to gather information about products and services, according to Ipsos-Reid’s The Face of the Web: Youth, a comprehensive study of internet usage among teens and young adults in 16 countries.

But far fewer, only 27 per cent, are buying online – just yet.

Most enthusiastic about online browsing: urban Brazilians (84 per cent), followed by youth in the Netherlands (64 per cent), Sweden (64 per cent), the U.S. (60 per cent), Germany (59 per cent), Italy (58 per cent) and Canada (57 per cent).

"Window and comparison shopping is commonplace in the well-developed Internet youth markets in North America and Europe," says Gus Schattenberg, vice president of global research at Ipsos-Reid, an international market research firm. "The next step is actually making an online purchase. The question is, how far off is that next step?"

When it comes to buying, young Americans (43 per cent) and Swedes (41 per cent) are first in line at the virtual till, followed by young Germans (33 per cent), Canadians (25 per cent) and Britons (22 per cent).

"Youth in other countries are still less likely to have made it to the checkout counter. However, they are roaming the aisles," says Schattenberg.

Despite their otherwise intense involvement in other realms of the Internet, Asian youth so far have not made any comparable large-scale forays into e-commerce.

Young Americans may no longer be a majority of the online youth population, but they still account for the majority – about 60 per cent --of the shoppers in the global e-shopping mall, reports Schattenberg.

What are youth snapping up once they decide to make a purchase? The most popular items are music (19 per cent); clothing (16 per cent); and books (14 per cent), but a wide range of consumer goods and services have made it into youth virtual shopping carts, from toys and flowers to tickets and travel.

Some clear niche interests are evident. Video game purchases are generally accounted for by male teens, while young men and females of all ages generally ignore these and instead are more likely to purchase books. Young women and girls are roughly three times more likely to buy clothing online than young men or male teens. Meanwhile sporting goods and computing goods have captured the attention of young male Internet purchasers.

Some 43 per cent of youth surveyed reported using their own payment cards to buy. Another 28 per cent used the card of someone else, generally a parent. While electronic cash has yet to be adopted on a broad scale (used by 1 per cent), more traditional methods of payment account for over one fifth of purchases (23 per cent report using COD, cheques or money orders, bank drafts or transfers).

Will online shopping among youth grow?

Gradually, would seem a safe bet, says Schattenberg. According to The Face of the Web: Youth, online shopping holds far less appeal than e-mail, music downloading, chat room participation and video gaming.

Only about one-in-six youth regard purchasing anything online this year as very likely. Another one-in-four consider it only somewhat likely.

"Young shoppers are still likely to find more immediate gratification at a brick-and-mortar retailer than waiting days or weeks for delivery of an order placed online," says Schattenberg. "It would appear that young consumers like the idea of window shopping online, but prefer the social experience of ‘actual’ shopping, and enjoy handling the merchandise they buy. There are also significant hurdles to be overcome in some markets. Not every kid has easy access to credit, which clearly has facilitated the development of e-commerce. "

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