April 18, 2014, 11:53 AM

Formula for selling to teens: heavy mobile marketing plus stores

Although teens are shopping more online, three-quarters of females and half of males still prefer to shop in stores. The key to connecting with them is through their mobile phones, Piper Jaffray says in a new report.

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After 13 years of surveying the shopping habits of teens, investment banking firm Piper Jaffray & Co. says it has noticed two major shifts in their shopping preferences and behaviors: a stronger appreciation of off-price retail shops, and a broad move to shopping more online and via mobile phones.

As of this spring, 26% of female teens say they prefer to shop online over stores, up from 18% a year ago; 47% of males say they prefer to shop online, up from 20%, Piper Jaffray says.

But the latest edition of the firm’s semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens Survey”—based on a poll of 7,500 teens in the 48 contiguous states, with an average age of 16.4—also notes the continued importance of stores.

About three-quarters of female teens prefer to shop in stores over e-commerce sites, though males are close to evenly split between preferences for shopping in stores or online, the study says. But stores are also important to many teens who shop online. When shopping online, 86% of females and 76% of males prefer to shop on e-commerce sites operated by retail store chains instead of sites operated by web-only merchants.

Retail chains can’t take for granted that teens will continue to prefer stores, the report says. With teens showing they want the flexibility to shop online, often via mobile devices, as well as in stores, chains must continue to focus on making it easy for consumers to shop across multiple channels, Piper Jaffray says. “Bricks-and-mortar retailers need to continue to invest in their sites and create frictionless shopping experiences in order to maintain this top-of-mind status among teens,” Piper Jaffray says. “Key to this strategy, we believe, is wrapped up in a mobile strategy.”

Although stores still command a strong place among teens’ shopping preferences, the Internet, thanks largely to social media, continues to be the top influencer of teens’ shopping behavior, the firm adds. “The Internet first displaced television as the No. 2 influencer with teens in our fall 2010 survey, and  we believe this uptrend will likely continue as social networking and online shopping drive teens online,” Piper Jaffray says. Teens increasingly show a preference for viewing product images and paying attention to “sound bite communications,” as on their two most preferred social media destinations, photo- and video-sharing site Instagram and messaging site Twitter, the firm says.

The survey lists the following social media sites by the percentages of teens citing it as their favorite:

● Instagram, 30%

● Twitter, 27%

● Facebook, 23%

● Tumblr, 5%

● Google+, 4%

● Pinterest, 2%

● Other, 4%

● Don’t use social media sites, 5%

In other teen data, the survey notes:

● Of the 60% of teens that own a tablet computer, 66% own an iPad

● 61% own an iPhone

● 6% own a smart watch

● 17% said they might purchase an iWatch at $350 

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