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What retailers (and other businesses) can learn from a 14-year-old’s shopping habits

I consider myself somewhat of a digital elder. I worked for my first internet start-up in the early 90’s, helping newspapers establish their classified business online as well as offering dial-up internet access to their newspaper subscribers. It was a time before most people even had an e-mail address and Mark Zuckerberg was barely out of diapers.  

Since then, I’ve run some of the largest, most beloved television digital media brands in the world as well as launched thousands of licensed products across almost every major retailer in the US and online.  

So, all in all, I’m digitally an old man.  

Even so, my 14-year-old digital native daughter consistently finds a way to teach this old dog a few new tricks. But the lessons that I learn from watching her patterns of digital behavior really have implications for all businesses that are looking to grow – not just those trying to sell clothes to teenagers. 

Here are the seven shopping-influenced behaviors of a 14-year-old that CEOs and leaders need to bear in mind:  

  1. Instagram and social channels drive most of her style and purchase decisions. Regardless of whether you’re selling a jacket or a new job to emerging professionals, if you’re not telling your story by visual and social means, you’re not selling anything 
  2. Brick-and-mortar isn’t dead, with my daughter preferring smaller footprint stores, like Free People, Lululemon, Hollister and Madewell. But selection and inspiration can’t be as extensive as it is online. Whether you’re designing a store or an office environment, you have to think more creatively than ever before if you are going to maximize returns from your physical space.
  3. Stitch Fix and similar subscription services enable teens to experience new brands, personalized styling and to build loyalty. Though with the recent demise of Nordstrom’s Trunk Club, it points out that the financial model of box subscriptions is still a challenging space. In a world of endless choice, curation is critical to businesses, and we have to find new ways to flip business models on their head to expose customers and employees to information, products, and experiences.  
  4. Once you engage my daughter, she will willingly drive (OK, be driven) hundreds of miles for experiences that have ignited her interest and devotion. Convenience is important, but it’s not everything. People will literally go the extra mile if you engage them with your business in the right way.
  5. Price isn’t the primary driver of purchase either. Style, selection and peer approval matter more than price, with a $20 upcycled item provoking as much joy as a $150 new item. Understanding where there is (or isn’t) elasticity – whether for clothes or for services – is key to driving growth.
  6. Teens enjoy the hunt! Purchase decision is longer, and saving a variety of shopping carts for future purchase is now the norm. If decision making in general is now longer for younger people, what are the implications for employers or for providers of services that rely on fast turnover?
  7. Don’t underestimate the pester power of cultural capital, with the “They have it, I want it” philosophy remaining highly important. Likewise, businesses need to do a better job of exemplifying outcomes and successes to drive purchase and selection.

As Head of Growth Markets at Boldsquare, I’m intrigued by the way in which corollaries exist between everyday behaviors and business ramifications. I’d love to read in the comments about what your kids are teaching you about the ways that behaviors are changing around us. 

Boldsquare is a CEO and C-Suite-focused consultancy specializing in strategy, communications, investor messaging, and employee engagement for a range of public and private companies across multiple sectors, with offices in Knoxville, Atlanta and Cincinnati.  

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