April 8, 2013, 11:18 AM

Phones are for fun

Is leisure activity—including shopping—migrating away from the PC entirely?

I no longer own a personal computer, though I do borrow my fiancé’s Google Chromebook from time to time when some task necessitates a good old fashioned keyboard, hard drive and web browsing that can handle non-mobile sites. Between the two of us, we have two smartphones, two tablets, an e-reader and, now, two Chromebooks—he upgraded to a more advanced version after finding the smaller one less suited to his work needs.

Which brings me to my point: After hours, at least in our household, the primary electronics used for leisure activities, including shopping, are overwhelmingly mobile. Work, meanwhile, seems to be something you do on a PC, or the closest device to it.

I recently spoke with Mondy Beller, vice president of e-commerce at apparel retailer Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., which targets millennial shoppers—those aged 13 to 30. PacSun, as loyal customers call it, is in the midst of expanding its sweeping mobile program, which includes a mobile commerce site, an app and in-store iPads for associates to help customers bridge their physical and online shopping. The retailer is also working “feverishly” on a tablet-optimized site, she says. Already, about 10% of the retailer’s sales come from smartphones, and it’s on track for 20% of all sales to come from smartphones and tablets combined by the end of the year.

“Our customer is so comfortable using all these devices, they grew up with them,” Beller says. “This space is constantly changing and evolving, and with millennials we need to be the first ones out there with new features.”

Millennials may as well be the mobile generation. I wonder as they continue to grow up and move on, will they be leaving their computers behind, so far as shopping is concerned?

Beller tells me a story. Her 17-year-old son said he needed new shorts for the summer. She gave him her credit card and told him to go to PacSun’s web site and pick some out. After taking her card, he got up from where he was sitting at the table, already using a computer to do school work, and walked across the room to get his iPhone. “What are you doing?” she asked, baffled.

“Mom,” he told her, “My laptop is for homework, my phone is for fun stuff, like for shopping.”

“It’s no big deal for them,” Beller says of teenagers. For PacSun, it appears the message has gotten through.

My fiancé and I are in our twenties and still have vague memories of mail-order catalogs, dial-up Internet and pay phones. Our children will not. They’ll probably laugh when we pull out the dusty laptop to show them our old photos, the ones we saved on an actual hard drive before Facebook existed, or when we show them what we want for Christmas on a standard web site. Whatever it is we’re doing on the laptop, I can only imagine them asking, “Seriously, you guys don’t have an app for that?”

The future kids are coming, retailers. Consider yourselves warned.

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