In my last blog regarding usability, I detailed some of the design features and functionality that make eCommerce user-friendly for an older demographic. The important features to optimize site search and navigation for the 65 and older user contrasts considerably with today’s youngest set of shoppers. These digital natives, ages 12-17 years old, are comfortable with evolving technologies, new features, and shopping concepts that take shopping online to a whole new level.

Investment firm Piper Jaffray, in its 25th semi-annual study, found that 79 percent of teen females and 76 percent of males shopped online, with 70 percent of those teens shopping online at their favorite stores. Creating an engaging and valuable website is crucial in capturing the attention of young shoppers, who have never experienced a time in their lives without technology.

Important Features for the Young Online Shopper

Jakob Nielsen, a pioneer in the user experience field, has researched the usability features most important for the teen online shopper in his article, “Teenage Usability: Designing Teen-Targeted Websites.” Nielsen says sites geared toward the teen market should use less text and adhere to standard design layouts. Examples of such sites are,, and Nielsen points out some specific design features that are important for teens: use of bright color, high quality images, integrated media such as videos and music, interactive games, and links to social media.

The Influence of Social Media

Social media has become an integral part of the teen market online shopping experience. The 2013 Piper Jaffray survey confirms that Facebook and YouTube are still the favorite social media sites for teens, with 53 percent of females and 52 of males indicating that social media influences their purchases (especially Facebook).

Other non-conventional social media platforms such as Pinterest and Polyvore have created innovative ways for teenagers to connect with their friends, see what their friends are interested in, and link them directly to eCommerce sites where purchases can be made.

Polyvore, for instance, is a community-driven social commerce site where members pick and choose from a variety of clothing, shoes and accessories to create fashion collages. Users can see other community members’ and friends’ fashion boards. Below these completed fashion boards are links to external retail websites, where users can complete any online transactions.

Pinterest, like Polyvore, is community-powered and allows members to follow friends’ and like-minded individuals’ pinboards. Pinterest users can re-pin rich images of home design, nature, fashion, food and beverages, and an assortment of other items for their followers to see. Each image or “pin” links directly to an online retailer’s site, essentially sharing that link with a huge network of followers.

Surprising Findings on Usability for Teens

Compared to other demographics, the teen market is actually less affected by poor usability features such as errors (their own or at the fault of the site). In the case of negative usability, such as slower loading time, the teen market has been shown to forgive and forget more easily than the senior market. Longer load times can still be frustrating for any user demographic, and may seem even more so for a group that craves instant gratification. However, patience is something that the youth market has practiced because of all types of technology mishaps they experience on a daily basis. This is unlike the senior market, which isn’t completely absorbed by the tech craze of smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Why the Teen Market Matters

Although some will argue that tailoring eCommerce sites to attract the teen market isn’t as valuable because teens don’t have direct buying power when it comes to online shopping, they are extremely influential when it comes to the consumption levels of their parents. According to the 2012 Harris Poll YouthPulse, teen-influenced purchases account for over $211 billion worth of purchasing power! With 23 million teens in the U.S. alone, teens are making a huge impact to the economy and their parents’ wallets.

When considering the teen demographic in their site design and usability, internet retailers should implement those site search tips listed above as a starting point to capture their target market.  Including non-product content such as social media links and interactive content such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Polyvore is a way to stay relevant and exciting to this young group. The key to engaging these Gen Z consumers is to keep it simple, avoid boring content, and consider using responsive website designs for multiple interfaces to keep your site fresh and fun.

Contact SLI Systems for a free site critique to learn how you can optimize your eCommerce site for this emerging youth market and other key market segments.