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What Today's Teens Mean for Tomorrow's College Store

Posted by Dean Asher on 2/2/16 11:00 PM
Topics: eCommerce, Marketing to Students

Let’s be honest. We work in college bookstores and have limited free time — we may not have the best idea of what’s “cool” with teenagers these days.

What Today's Teens Mean for Tomorrow's College StoreLuckily, Business Insider is filling us in. The business news site recently polled 60 teenagers of varying socioeconomic backgrounds ranging from middle school to college from across the country, asking them what they thought was cool, and what wasn’t.

You can read the full survey above if you’re interested, but what we thought was particularly noteworthy was their thoughts on mobile phone usage, social media and the internet in general.

Read their findings below, and our responses after.

BI: Teens get their phones earlier in life, and use them for shopping and socialization

Out of all 60 teens Business Insider spoke with, each and every one owned a smartphone — regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic background, beating out other popular devices often assumed are ubiquitous among teenagers, such as gaming consoles, tablets and desktops.

Teens are also getting access to their phones from a much younger age. BI found that the average age their sample received smartphones from their parents was 11. Some were as young as 8, while others had to wait until they were 16.

Also, the survey found that mobile shopping was becoming more and more common. They specifically noted this was even true of clothing, which traditionally had been resistant to the shift to eCommerce as people preferred trying on apparel before they bought.

"But when it comes to teenage shoppers, the option of being able to try on clothing before buying is becoming less important, according to a survey conducted by Piper Jaffray in 2015," Business Insider reported. "Only 61 percent of U.S. teens say they prefer to shop for clothing online from retailers that also operate their own brick-and-mortar stores.

"That's a significant drop from the 81 percent of teens last spring who said they preferred to shop at omni-channel fashion (or cross-channel) retailers."

Our takeaways: Your students are increasingly mobile, so your site needs to be mobile too

More than a quarter of the world’s online transactions are now done on mobile devices, and if future generations’ mobile habits are indicative of a trend, that number will only grow. It's important you have a mobile store that's easy to use on any type of device and features live, automatically-updating inventory of just about everything you have to offer in your store — yes, that includes apparel. These are features that your students in the next several years will be expecting to use.

BI: Instagram was a favorite app, Twitter surprised, Facebook disappointed

Instagram was routinely listed as a favorite, with teens telling Business Insider they loved being able to share pictures they take or found and thought were interesting. And while it's been no secret that Twitter's userbase has been dwindling, BI was surprised to find teens mentioned the microblogging site as a favored app.

"Twitter because I can update everyone all the time quickly and it's not annoying like Facebook." — 17-year-old

Twitter because "you can voice your opinion on anything you want to and you can somewhat interact with celebrities." — 18-year-old

"My favorite app is Twitter because I am the kind of person who needs to get out my thoughts, and Twitter may be like shouting into the void but at least I am heard and often validated by my peers." — 19-year-old

Other areas of interest include the fact that Facebook continues to be used, but is not in favor by most teens. One 14-year-old surveyed said Facebook was "mostly outdated," while another 16-year-old told the site "I feel like I can't be myself on it because my parents and my friends' parents are my Facebook friends." Some users did acknowledge that it was a good platform for group events, however.

Our takeaways: Social preferences change almost as much as the platforms themselves, so stores must be adaptable

You can’t let your social media strategy rely on old classics. Facebook has long been a titan of the social media world, but like any other platform, it’s always just one strong competitor away from a generational shift or even obsoletion. Instantly jumping ship and adopting every new app or site that comes out may not be the best use of your time and resources — very few ultimately develop any longevity or use as a marketing tool, after all — but it’s good to keep an eye out for new avenues your store can use to communicate with your students.

It's also good to note some of the specific things teens mentioned:

  1. They like sharable content
  2. They like using Twitter to interact with celebrities or brands
  3. While Facebook is flawed, it's good for group events

Instagram is great for sharable content. Stores like Towson University have had a lot of success with the platform. We also can infer that for a store's Twitter account to be successful, it has to be approachable. Practice good listening skills and be ready to respond and interact with students. Lastly, while Facebook might not be as popular as it once was, it's still a good method for promoting your store.

We're in the era of the digital native. Are you ready to serve them?

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