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Where Teens Shop and What They Buy: Piper Sandler Finds Out

Gen Z’s influence on the retail industry is undeniable. Young shoppers are changing fashion’s course by voting with their wallets—even if they’re using their parents’ credit cards.

In a survey conducted between Aug. 19 and Sept. 22, investment bank and securities firm Piper Sandler polled 9,800 of the nation’s youth for its 40th semi-annual survey of U.S. teens.

While Gen Z shoppers typically contribute about $830 billion to U.S. retail sales annually, this year’s unprecedented obstacles have brought self-reported spending down to an all-time low of $2,150—a decrease of 9 percent since last year. While a vast majority of teens (76 percent) have returned to class this fall in a hybridized or fully virtual format, it appears that the appetite for new duds and supplies has decreased significantly.

“Our Fall survey gave rise to some fascinating takeaways as consumers are adjusting to a new normal,” said Piper Sandler senior research analyst Erinn Murphy.

“While we are not surprised that overall teen spending was down again given the economic backdrop, we are seeing wallet share priorities change,” she added, with spending moving away from food, events and clothes to boredom busters like video games, along with furniture and room accessories to spruce up their living quarters.

Like last year, Amazon remains teens’ favorite online shopping destination, with 54 percent of respondents ranking it No. 1. However, Chinese women’s wear e-tailer Shein bumped Nike from its No. 2 position for the first time. “Shein made notable gains in our survey as a preferred apparel brand and website,” Murphy remarked.

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Another standout, given teens’ increasing concerns about the environment, is a shift toward circularity. Secondhand shopping now takes up 8 percent of the time teens spend shopping, pulling from off-price, specialty and department stores. Thrifted wares took the No. 13 spot in Gen Z’s list of preferred brands and retailers this year, a massive jump from its No. 44 designation a year prior. Depop, Zalando, H&M and Levi’s are among the brands courting young consumers interested in purchasing previously owned fashion.

“With environment at the forefront of their minds, we are seeing an uptick of teens ‘thrifting’ or shopping secondhand,” Murphy said. “We believe this will be a very important trend to watch in the future.”

Teens’ favorite clothing brands are still, ultimately, predictable. Nike took the top spot with 27 percent of the teen vote, while American Eagle (8 percent), Adidas (5 percent), PacSun (4 percent) and Hollister (4 percent) rounded out the top five.

When it comes to footwear, Nike also wins big at 52 percent, followed by Vans (17 percent), Adidas (11 percent), Converse (4 percent) and Foot Locker (2 percent).

While teens have reined in their discretionary spending, they still expressed concrete opinions on their favorite handbag brands. Louis Vuitton ranked No. 1 with 19 percent of the vote, followed closely by Michael Kors (18 percent), Coach (13 percent), Kate Spade (12 percent) and Gucci (6 percent).

Teens also appear to be more anxious about the state of the world than they were last year. Nearly half (48 percent) of young shoppers surveyed are less than optimistic about the economy, stating that they believe it’s getting worse. They named racial equality as their No. 1 concern in 2020, followed closely by the state of the environment. The presidential election took the No. 4 spot, despite the fact that the average age of respondents was 15—too young to vote.

Teens are still teens, despite these new, weightier concerns, and their smartphones remain their lifelines. Survey respondents reported spending an average of 12 hours per week on social media, with Snapchat being their No. 1 app. For the first time, TikTok surpassed Instagram, grabbing the No. 2 spot.

The reliance on these platforms not just for entertainment, but product recommendations, makes them an ever-important channel for retailers. Eighty-four percent of female teens reported looking to influencers to help them discover new trends and brands.