January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Good News, Bad News On Teens Online

Teens frequently access the Internet, spend a significant amount of time online and hold sizeable purchasing power; however, they rarely go online to shop, says a recent survey conducted by the Columbus, Ohio, office of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The survey indicates that while over one-fourth of teen Internet users regularly go online to shop, only 2% claim shopping is their primary reason for doing so. Teens do not access the Web as often as adults, but households with teens are more likely to have Internet access compared to all households, according to 1999 PWC E-Retail Intelligence System research.

Some 38% of teenage Internet users access the Web more than once a day, compared with 52% of adult Web users. Another 24% of teens get connected once a day, while 8% access the Web less than once a week.

When teens access the Web, they stay online, and the challenge for retailers, says PWC, is to capture their attention. Survey results indicate that more than one in four teens with Web access stay online for at least an hour during a typical visit. The duration of the visit corresponds directly with access frequency. Teens accessing the Web more than once a day are significantly more likely to spend an hour or more online per visit. Teens accessing the Web weekly are significantly more likely to spend less than 30 minutes online.

Results also show that while teens access the Web for a variety of reasons, shopping is seldom one of them. Most teens regularly go online to send or receive e-mail, and nearly half indicate that e-mail is the primary reason they go online. While just over one-fourth of online teens cite shopping as a reason for regularly going online, only 2% indicate that shopping is their primary reason. Other reasons include research, games, chat and news.

Teen Web users have a much lower online purchasing rate than adult users, the survey finds. Some 31% of teens with Web access have purchased a product from an online shopping site vs. 76% of online adults. Another 25% of online teens have shopped online, but have never made a purchase. Among teens, music, clothing, books, software and toys are the top five categories for online purchases. Among adults, they are books, music, software, toys and clothing.

Parental restrictions and the inability to touch or try products before purchasing were the two biggest problems teens associated with shopping online, PWC says. Other significant concerns include returning products if not happy with the purchase, the inability to pay for products online and privacy issues. Very few teens admitted to having no problems with online shopping.

While parental permission and the ability to pay for products online are major barriers to online shopping, 78% of teens' purchases are paid for using a parent's credit card. Online retailers have the opportunity to develop creative methods to "e-commerce enable" teens, says PWC. Digital wallets and other prepaid online spending accounts may take the risk away from parents hesitant to give teens access to their credit cards, while giving teens budgetary responsibilities, it adds. Survey results show, however, that one in five teens indicate that nothing would make them more likely to purchase online in the future.

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