Digital natives don't buy into f-commerce

Students may now spend more time on Facebook than down the pub, but research seen by Marketing Week suggests that brands wanting to connect with 16- to 24-year-olds should reassess their f-commerce strategies. By Lucy Handley


Marketers may think that developing online offers and services is the only way to appeal to students, but new research reveals that they are more cautious about life online than might have previously been thought.

A huge 91 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds say they are not interested in buying products or services directly through Facebook and many are worried about online shopping in general, with 43 per cent saying they are concerned about security, according to the survey by youth marketing agency The Beans Group.

Luke Mitchell, head of youth strategy at the agency, says this age group is very aware of the threats of the internet. “They are sophisticated Facebook users and are aware of the dangers, so they see fraping [when someone updates a Facebook status without permission] and clickjacking going on.”

Clickjacking is when Facebook users see that a friend has liked something and click on a link that takes them to a spam-style website.

Despite concern about the security of the net, many hours are spent online by this age group.

More than half of those in the survey spend more than 15 hours a week online and a third say they are more likely to buy a product if they have seen it advertised on a website.

Absolute Radio

Absolute Radio has just launched a BlackBerry app so people can discuss listening through BBM

Even though 97 per cent of students are on Facebook and love sharing their experiences with others, the site needs to invest more in gaining the trust of students, according to Mitchell. He says: “The quality of the advertising just doesn’t help create an environment in terms of trust. There are often some quite downmarket ads on it, so that can be another factor in lowering user confidence in the site.”

This lack of confidence in f-commerce is such a surprise to some brand marketers that they say they may change their strategy because of the findings in the Beans Group report. Ant Stone, content marketing manager at STA Travel, says: “We are making an assumption that everyone is on Facebook or Twitter and we want to provide the same sort of services that we provide outside these channels, so we are reflecting our retail space on Facebook.

“This study might prioritise the areas we step into first. We might not go for the f-commerce route, we might spend more time and resource in the smartphone quarter,” he says (see The Frontline, below).

And when it comes to their mobiles, young people are hungry to get their hands on the most up to date handsets. Almost a quarter are using standard feature phones at the moment, but this is set to fall - with only 6 per cent saying they expect to be using these types of phones in the future.

Added to this, an iPhone/Android battle is afoot. Only 19 per cent of students currently use iPhones, while 31 per cent use Android-operated handsets. However, more than a third say their next phone will be an iPhone and 29 per cent are gunning for an Android.

“The iPhone is a lot more aspirational, but I am also aware that the specs that are offered by those two operating systems are now very equal. Students do want the best spec but price is important too. If they can get an Android for a bit less than an iPhone, then common sense prevails.

“I think there will be a price war, but knowing the history of Apple I expect that Android phones will be cheaper and win out the market,” Mitchell says.

BlackBerry does not get much of a look in, with 19 per cent owning one now, but only 7 per cent hoping for one next time round.

Celebrity Juice

Celebrity Juice is a popular ITV show among the young

Young people often set broader trends, says Sonia Sudhakar, director of digital marketing at ITV. “This group is often a fairly good indicator of where the mainstream is going to go from now,” she adds, pointing to the fact the survey identifies dual screening as a growing trend (see The Frontline, below).

Half of the students in the report say they are sometimes on social media at the same time as watching TV, while 28 per cent say they are on Facebook or Twitter “all the time” when the television is on. While Facebook (97 per cent) has a bigger student population than Twitter, as many as 45 per cent are now tweeting.

Most young people (75 per cent) are viewing television via their laptops, with 45 per cent spending an hour doing this every day and a third spending one to two hours. ITV is taking advantage of this trend with a new interactive ad format, which appeals to this age group, says Sudhakar.

Yet while the proliferation of new media and advertising produces more opportunities for brands to reach people, marketers must be mindful that they may get less attention from them.

Mitchell warns: “There is an opportunity, but one of the defining things of young people is that they manage a lot more than other generations can. They can be walking along the street texting and chatting. Everything is going on at the same time.”

As well as being great multitaskers, those in their teens and early 20s might keep alternative hours, which can make them harder to reach, adds Mitchell. He says: “When we did a recruitment drive, people were sending us their CVs at 3am. This group operates on what is going on the next day and what they have to prepare for, so there is not a lot of planning a marketer can do around their daily life.”

Getting the attention of students must be done in the right way. According to the study, 44 per cent of them say they are put off by companies that show them irrelevant messages on social media and 41 per cent say that a brand “trying to act cool” will get a frosty reaction from them.

The good news for marketers is that more than half say they do follow brands that they really like on social media and they are brand loyal. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) say they will stick to the products and places they know in general, rather than trying out new things.

“I think the idea that young people are very fickle about brandshas become one of those marketing statements that’s bandied around in meetings and gets stuck in marketing thinking,” says Mitchell.

“One of the mistakes that is made in youth marketing is that they are treated almost too uniquely. Like everybody else, if they find something they like they stick with it.”

The frontline

Ant Stone

Ant Stone
Content marketing manager
STA Travel

What really surprises me in this research is that 91 per cent of people would not like to be able to buy goods through Facebook. I expected that figure to be high but not that high. The fact that only 9 per cent are looking to embrace f-commerce would probably affect our priorities in that space.

We are making an assumption that everyone is on Facebook or Twitter and we want to provide the same sort of services that we provide outside these channels, so we are reflecting our retail space on Facebook.

So it might prioritise the areas we step into first. We might not go for the f-commerce route, we might spend more time and resource in the smartphone quarter.

The 6 per cent that are looking for information about brands on Facebook stands out as being quite low. Our basic Facebook page plays such a huge part of our customer relationship management strategy and it works really well as a platform for directing conversations into our business. If someone is asking a question, we will get straight back to them, give them the links to relevant pages on the website or the number to call their local store.

We have about 150,000 on our Facebook community and the age group goes up to about 35. [The age group perception] is actually one of our key areas that we are battling with - we are not just a student travel company, we sell flights and tours to each age group across the range.

We are in the early stages of developing apps and a mobile site. Our priorities will always be our retail business and our website, so we see those as more of a traffic driver at the moment. But it is something we are keeping an eye on.

Although we have a very active Facebook community, we are also quite active on Twitter. We work closely with Twitter in the UK and I think we will probably see more return in the long term from that. But what Twitter hasn’t done so far is come up with a viable platform for us to sell directly, other than through advertising and click-throughs, so it will be interesting to watch that space.


Sonia Sudhakar

Sonia Sudhakar
Director of digital marketing

The research reflects the patterns we are seeing. The big thing for us is to see that this age group is still watching a lot of TV. They might be on different devices, platforms or be in their room, but it is really encouraging for us to see that TV is a really big part of life. It’s not just about watching it, it is also about talking about it as well.

The second screening statistics come through as a big element for me. We see a huge amount of social engagement around our TV programmes. Being on social media while watching TV is quite a macro trend that is becoming mainstream.

Our programmes that appeal to a younger audience are The Only Way Is Essex (Towie), Celebrity Juice, Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl, which all do brilliantly for us on ITV Player.

With Towie, we play back on air what people are saying on Twitter, so the continuity announcer will, for example, say: “Joey Essex did this.”

This age group is used to interaction and they are watching video on demand quite naturally, which means we can use some more interesting ad formats, such as Ad Explore which we recently launched. Cadbury Creme Egg recently ran the Creme Egg games on it which was playful advertising and made the most of the format. People could select what they saw in that ad and that was engaging and more than just a one-way broadcast message.

We find that students are watching more TV and more video on demand. It is an interesting gauge for the future, as they are often a fairly good indicator of where the mainstream is going to go.

We are launching paid content on ITV Player soon and as you get more content out there, it is bound to increase. That kind of behaviour comes naturally [to the 16- to 24-year-old age group] and that should carry on.


Laura Tannenbaum

Laura Tannenbaum
Brand manager
Absolute Radio

It is interesting to see in these statistics how much time students spend online, whether they are on eBay or Amazon, doing their weekly shop, consuming podcasts or watching TV. So, it is not that surprising that “standard” TV consumption is in decline as is print.

We ensure that people can listen to Absolute wherever they are, at any time of day. We have lots of apps and people can listen through Facebook. Fifty-four per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds listen to the radio via digital, compared with 46 per cent of the population. That tallies quite nicely with the fact that they are spending more time online.

On Facebook, that age group accounts for 27 per cent of our fans and the only age group that is slightly larger than that are the 25- to 34-year-olds with 28 per cent. That is for the main station.

I thought it was quite surprising that smartphones aren’t more prevalent among students. We are working with handset manufacturers to make sure that Absolute Radio is there by default and with Xbox on an app that is going to come with the console.

We have also just launched our BlackBerry app as [messaging service] BBM is a huge deal for them. We can make listening to us an event and people can discuss it through BBM.

In future, desktop and mobile will become a bit more interchangeable so your desktop knows what your mobile is doing and things will be a bit more aligned.

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