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4 things you need to know to shop for a teen

Today’s teens have more options than ever before. With plenty of online shopping options and social media sites to find and shop for items, teens are constantly offered opportunities to buy.

Without being restricted to in-person shopping and local options, teens have the ability to be more selective in where they shop, and what they shop for.

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What Teens Look for When Shopping

A study from Piper Sandler found that teens shopping behaviors this fall have changed some from last year. Here are some of the key trends from their findings about how teens are shopping this fall.

1. Teens have different spending priorities

Gen-Z has been the most affected by school changes from the pandemic. With schools going between online, hybrid, and in person over the last year, students’ shopping priorities have changed this year compared to last year.

Here are a few of the key things teens are spending money on.

  • Clothes. Similar to what we found in our own school spending survey, clothes were a higher priority for shopping this year than last school year. Apparel represents 22% of teen spending, topping even food purchases. Females are especially driving a higher spend in this category. Top clothing sites include SHEIN, LULU Lemon, and Nike.
  • Beauty products. While cosmetics spending has dropped, there has been an increase especially in beauty costs spent on hair care and fragrances. Both make sense with a return to more in-person interaction this school year. The top beauty brand is ULTA.
  • Handbags. It’s a sign of a return to in-person outings that teens are spending more on purses. Michael Kors is the most popular brand that teens look to when shopping for handbags.

2. Teens look at a brand’s values

Today’s teens are interested in supporting brands that represent causes they believe in. A survey found that some Gen-Z shoppers report that they didn’t go through with a purchase if the brand didn’t share their values.

Here are the top causes that make a company resonate with them.

  • Environmental practices. Teens are paying attention to sustainability practices within the business. They want to know what companies are doing to reduce their carbon footprint and eliminate waste.
  • Socially conscious. Teen shoppers are more attracted to brands that are pro-diversity, support racial equality, and take a stand for inclusivity. They are also concerned about ethical business practices and employee treatment.

3. Teens get style inspiration from friends, not celebrities

Teens’ social media use allows them to connect with more people. And rather than looking for cues from bigger celebrities, today’s teens are more likely to find things to shop for in people they can admire more closely. 

Here are the main sources that teens are getting shopping ideas from.

  • Peers. Teens’ favorite social media platform is TikTok (38% share), taking over SNAP at 30% share. With a return to in-person school, many are looking to their classmates to see what is cool to fill out their back to school wardrobe.
  • Smaller influencers. Video consumption is also hugely popular. 32% of daily teen video consumption happens on Netflix, with YouTube at a close second with 29% consumption. A survey from NY mag found that teens list micro influencers, those with 10,000 - 200,000 followers, as style icons. Compared to celebrities with massive followings, these influencers are closer to their audience, and more likely to respond back when a follower asks about something they wear in a post.

Teens have an eye on new tech

Despite a return to vintage clothing looks and a love for secondhand shopping (47% have purchased secondhand and 58% have sold something secondhand), there are some new items teens are looking at, especially in electronics. With a focus on phones, watches, and gaming, product protection plans can help new items last longer.

Here are the tech advancements teens are looking to buy next.

  • Apple watches and iPhones. 87% of teens own an iPhone, and 88% expect their next phone to be one also. If your teen doesn't have an extended warranty for their iPhone, it's definitely a good idea to look into it for their next phone purchase. Apple is moving into first place in other categories as well, with Apple branded watches taking the top of the list for watches at 31%.
  • NextGen video game consoles. Sales on video games are up 12% since last year, and 30% of teens expect to purchase a NextGen console in the next two years (if they don't already have one).

How to Find the Right Teen Gift

Today’s teens are using different criteria to determine their shopping habits. Between more focused spending after the pandemic, a focus on business values, local inspiration, and anticipated tech, there are a lot of factors driving their decisions.

If you're shopping for a teen, look at the things they want but aren't willing to buy for themselves. If you're unsure what items they have their eye on, don't shy away from a gift card to a brand they value (or ask them to share their online wishlists). Teens report that they value stretching their dollars, and a gift card can help them make a purchase they want without spending all their cash.


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Janessa McQuivey

About the author

Janessa McQuivey is the Content Marketing Manager at Mulberry. Her degree in Human Development fueled a love of understanding customer experience. She has been in research and writing for 3 years and has covered everything from AI technology to her own dating life. Janessa has published across blogs, newspapers, and academic journals.

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