Americans under 50 are buying online

Nearly all Americans under 50 are buying online

The vast majority of 18- to 49-year-olds are using their phones to make online purchases, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.

A close look at the buying behavior of younger consumers is crucial for merchants planning for the future. Consumers between the ages of 18 and 35—so-called millennials—are expected to spend more than $200 billion annually starting next year and $10 trillion in their lifetimes, according to an estimate from Advertising Age.

That’s why web merchants especially should take note of a new study released this week from the Pew Research Center, which shows younger adults are far more likely to purchase products on their phone or through social channels than older consumers. They’re also much more likely to check online reviews before buying a new product online or in stores.

Shopping online is now generally mainstream across all age groups, as 79% of consumers have purchased something online in their lifetime (90% of 18- to 29-year-olds; 87% of 30- to 49-year-olds; 72% of 50- to 64-year-olds; and 59% of those 65 and over), the study finds.

Shopping via smartphone is much more popular in the under-50 age bracket, however. Roughly 77% of consumers ages 18 to 29 have purchased something on their phones, while 64% of consumers 30 to 49 have done the same. That compares to a drastically smaller portion of older Americans that are doing so. Only 36% of consumers 50 to 64 years old have bought something on their phone and only 17% of those 65 and above.

Younger consumers aren’t only using their phones to make purchases; they’re also much more likely than older age groups to use them to get more information on products in stores, such as to check prices, read online reviews or ask a friend for advice.

For example, 63% of consumers under 30 years old say they’ve used their phone in stores to check online reviews of a product. Only 13% of Americans over the age of 65 have done the same.

Younger consumers are also much more likely to rely on social media. When it comes to buying something through a social media link, 24% of adults 29 and under have done so, versus 19%, 11% and 5% of the older demographic segments tracked.

The Pew Research Center’s December 2016 study, called “Online Shopping and E-Commerce,” is based on a survey of 4,7897 U.S. adults conducted by mail and online in December 2015.

The survey also shows that younger consumers increasingly turn to online reviews to guide them in their purchasing decisions. Roughly 53% of Americans under 30 say they always or almost always check reviews before buying a new item. 43% they sometimes check and 4% say they never do.

That compares to the 65 and older demographic, 23% of which say they always check online reviews, 36% say they sometimes do and 34% say never.

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