How Young Consumers Are Changing eCommerce—and What Your Business Should Do About It

Over the past few years, consumers aged 18 to 34 have become the dominant demographic in the eCommerce sphere. In fact, 67% of customers in this age group are spending more online than they were before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, well ahead of older age groups.

From the explosive growth of social commerce to the heightened relevance of sustainability and businesses who share their buyer’s values, young consumers are at the forefront of almost every change in consumer behavior. Appealing to this demographic isn’t just a matter of increasing sales and customer loyalty. It’s also an investment in the future.

What makes consumers in this age bracket click that “buy” button? And how can your eCommerce businesses tap into this powerful demographic? Read on to find out.

Social Commerce

A towering 90% of young adults in the U.S. use social networks, and social media plays an integral role in this demographic’s shopping experiences. Of young consumers who purchase from independent retailers, 54% discover the brands through social media. For all age brackets, that number goes down to a still-respectable 41%.

But that’s not all: many social media platforms are now full ecosystems for a seamless shopping experience. As online shopping becomes more of an omnichannel experience for shoppers, especially younger ones, they expect to be able to make their purchases on any platform. 28% of young consumers use social media, such as Facebook or Instagram Shop, as a retail channel, and that number is only expected to grow.

A consumer can discover interesting products through social media posts, browse reviews and customer feedback, interact with the brand, and place an order all on the same platform. This creates a seamless shopping experience for a demographic that’s very comfortable with social media.

The screenshot below shows how Instagram Shop integrates sales into its platform. As in the rest of Instagram, visuals and clean design dominate, and product pages can be shared or bookmarked just like any other post. The unified aesthetics and functions between Instagram Shop and the rest of Instagram create a feeling of social commerce as part of a virtual community experience, which is something young consumers value highly.

As we covered in our post about the impact of the mobile shopping revolution on eCommerce, almost three quarters of online purchases occur on mobile devices, a trend driven by young consumers. Meanwhile, 90% of mobile web browsing occurs through apps rather than browsers, and social media apps get the most daily use.

If you’re trying to generate more sales on mobile, social commerce is a great way to meet young users where they spend most of their time. Simplifying the journey between product discovery and purchase can improve conversion rates. It may also help create a more lasting, personal connection between your brand and your young customers.

To optimize your social media strategy, keep in mind the following:

  • Make sure you engage with comments and posts about your products or your brand, both positive and negative, to show that you value your customers’ needs and opinions.
  • Strive to represent your brand’s personality, whether through humor, showcasing your brand values, or engaging in a cause related to your values.
  • Collaborate with social media influencers or other brands from your industry.
  • Take advantage of the immense popularity of the short-form video format to share content more likely to get organic engagement and views.
  • Share user-generated content, such as photos of customers using your products. User-generated content creates social proof that other customers are enjoying your brand.

Sustainability and Green Products

While customers continue to value price, quality, and convenience in the products they buy, a growing percentage are interested in the sustainability of products as well. This is especially true of young consumers, of whom a whopping 62% prefer to shop for sustainable and “green” products.

In a previous post, we took a deep dive into starting or developing a green eCommerce business, including the steps you can take to communicate your commitments to preserving the environment. Many customers, especially millennials and zennials, are willing to forego two-day or next-day delivery in favor of more sustainable shipping practices.

If you sell on a marketplace such as Amazon, you can apply to receive badges that certify your products as climate-friendly. If your products are verified as sustainable by one of Amazon’s third-party certifications or by Amazon’s Compact By Design certification, you will be eligible for the Climate Pledge Friendly badge. This badge will appear beside your products in search results and product pages as well as in the Climate Pledge Friendly section of the website. These certifications are free and available to any seller on the platform.

Certifications can be a great idea no matter where you sell your products. Customers are growing wary of “greenwashing” or overstating the climate-friendliness of a product or brand. The best way to prove your sustainability commitments to savvy prospective customers is to have your efforts verified by a reputable organization.

Values-Based Shopping

Beyond just sustainability, many young shoppers today are looking for brands that have values, missions, or commitments to causes that matter to them. Customers want to have a personal connection with brands’ stories and purpose.

The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged an explosive growth in online shopping, but it also gave many consumers a chance to reflect on their spending patterns. Many consumers opted to buy more from small or local vendors and minority-owned brands.

Younger consumers spearheaded this shift, with around half of Gen Z and Millennials shifting their spending habits to help small businesses. 32% of young consumers who shopped from independent retailers since the beginning of the pandemic did so because they wanted to have a positive impact on society. That’s a leap up from 28% of middle-aged consumers and 23% of older consumers. 

This trend will likely continue after the pandemic. Only 8% of overall consumers plan to decrease their spending on small businesses in the future.

Since the pandemic, consumers have also started to look more deeply into the values of a company before making a purchase. In fact, 52% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that shares their values. Again, young consumers are at the forefront of this trend.

All this is great news for small businesses with strong core values. By simply leading with those values in their messaging, they can capture the interest of young consumers who share similar principles.

For small businesses that have yet to develop an identity or are struggling with brand recognition, focusing on identifying core values is a great opportunity to build a brand that will not only stand out but also connect with customers on a deeper level, creating brand loyalty.

One of the best ways to leverage your core values is through your brand’s story. Stories connect strongly with audiences, and brand origin stories are no exception. Communicate those values and that story in every facet of your business, whether it’s the “About” page on your website, your social media posts, or your product pages. 

With younger consumers in particular, social media is an especially effective place to advertise your brand’s values, including its commitment to sustainability, since it’s the place where many customers go to engage with brands. Customers value openness and transparency, and social media is a great opportunity to show those qualities by being approachable and honest.

Whatever your values are and wherever you choose to share them, don’t just make statements. Instead, show why those values matter to you and how your brand is bringing those values into the world.

Connecting With Young Consumers

Young consumers are the future of eCommerce, the trendsetters, and the demographic engaging most actively with brands on social media. Even if your products and brand are not specifically tailored to the younger generation, it’s a big mistake to ignore them if you sell online.

If you find yourself overwhelmed or at a loss trying to engage young consumers or other demographics, we can step in to help. Our team is responsible for over 10 million dollars in eCommerce sales for three consecutive years, and our simple, clean, and effective process is based around in-depth knowledge of the market. From product research analysis, to website development, to marketing and advertising, our proprietary software and dedicated team of experts understand how to appeal to today’s consumers. Contact us today to find out how we can set your business up for success.