The Web reaches out to Gen Y
June 16, 1999
by David Needles
(IDG) -- It's been called the largest consumer market since the baby boomers and the first to be reared on the Web. This is Generation Y: kids 5 to 20 years old for whom computers, digital appliances, and the Internet are all second nature.
Ever since the Web burst on the consumer scene, young people have been among the most active surfers. Now many companies have sprung up to try and cash in with Web sites specifically for Gen Y'ers, including Alloy Online, Bolt, and Delias.
"This is a no-brainer idea," says Manish Vij, chief executive officer of NetStudio, an established Web tools company that will enter the market next month. "Teens buy lots of stuff, so this space is hot."
Heading off the mall
Not surprisingly, buying (especially teenage buying) is key to the success of any Gen Y site. Until recently kids buying power on the Web was an open question because it usually involved using a parent's credit card.
But three companies (I Can Buy, RocketCash, and DoughNet) have developed "cyber allowance" schemes that let parents set their kids up with preapproved accounts to buy goods online up to a designated amount. These digital cash accounts work only with reselected vendors and online malls.
Such offerings will help push teen buying up: way, way up. Teens will account for $1.2 billion of electronic commerce dollars in 2002, according to the market research firm Jupiter Communications. Even 5- to 12-year-olds will start chipping in, as Jupiter predicts they will be responsible for $100 million in spending online the same year.
"Today's kids are sophisticated and see the Internet as a preferred tool for information gathering; commerce is a natural progression," says Jupiter analyst Anya Sacharow.
Where are the goods?
Some Gen Y Web sites go straight for the e-commerce payoff, while others attempt to build community using an e-commerce engine.
The Delias clothing catalog site, for example, buries in small type at the bottom of the home page a survey question asking readers whether they "Dig or Diss" the new Austin Powers movie. You'll find a few other content areas, but the main focus is stuff for sale.
Conversely, Bolt, which boasts 800,000 members, hits you right off the home page with a picture and profile of its Member of the Day and a rolling headline feed of Gen Y topics such as "Student suspended for blue hair." There are also features by Bolt staff members such as Favorite Memories of the Prom, and electronic greeting cards ready to send for various occasions such as "I Have a Crush on You." Merchandise is tucked away in a separate Bolt Mart section.
Alloy Online's home page is more of a mix of content and commerce, but you'll find plenty of content-heavy sections including an advice column ("How do I get rid of hickeys?"), sports, music, and even a poetry section. There's also a link to Alloy member home pages and a tool to create your own, using technology from Homestead.com.
NetStudio CEO Vij thinks it's far too early to declare any winners in this burgeoning market. He freely admits that a new player like MTV could combine with a strong e-commerce company to become the market leader almost overnight.
NetStudio hopes to use technology and alliances to create a leading Gen Y community site that will be both engaging and a hotbed of buying. The emphasis, he says, will be to offer an easy way to create "cool, graphically-rich Web pages."
"Our focus groups show that young adults absolutely love creating and reading personal Web sites. Creating personal Web sites is second only to e-mail and chat," says Vij. "However, most young adults do not have their own Web sites because the sites are too difficult to build."
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