Gen Z Buying Habits

What are teens spending on?

Investment bank Piper Jaffray just released its 38th semi-annual survey of teen spending trends. Small business owners who dismiss the teen market do so at their own risk—overall, Gen Z contributes about $830 billion a year in retail spending.

The survey of 9,500 teens (average age 15.8) reveals teenagers are buying less. Spending is down 4% from last fall’s survey and 10% from this past spring. That’s the lowest spend level since the fall of 2011.

One thing that hasn’t changed: Teenage boys are spending most of their money (23% of their overall outlay) on food. Video games became slightly more popular with teens this year, rising to 9% of their total spend (up from 8%).

Teen girls spend most of their money on clothes (27% of their overall spend). All teens prefer casual, “athletic-type” clothing—36% of their preferred brands are athletic, with Nike ranking as their favorite brand.

The girls have cut back on buying beauty products: Their beauty spend is down 21% year over year. Teens prefer shopping for their beauty products in-store. Spending on handbags hit a survey low.

Overall, these are the lowest teen spending levels in eight years, says Erinn Murphy, Piper Jaffray senior research analyst. “The two most challenged categories were handbags and cosmetics as females reprioritize their spending with eating out and footwear/apparel,” Murphy says.

The survey validates teens’ digital-native reputation—83% of teens own an iPhone, 52% say Amazon is their favorite online shopping website, and mentions of VSCO and TikTok accelerated. YouTube accounts for 37% of teens’ daily video consumption, just over Netflix, which comes in at 35%. Also, for the third consecutive survey, Instagram was the most frequented social media platform.

Today’s teens are keenly aware of social and political issues—the environment, immigration and gun control are their top-three concerns.

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