What Matters Now: Digital Kids.
The online behavior of a new generation of digital natives.
While a great deal of attention has been lavished on the habits and behaviors of Millennials (born in the 1980s and 1990s), another generation of digital natives is coming of age. To better understand the motivations, perceptions and browsing habits of these “digital kids,” Huge conducted multiple focus groups with an ethnically and economically diverse group of ten-year-olds to hear in their own words what excites them and how they discover new content.
As children spend more and more time with mobile screens (both phones and tablets), they are becoming increasingly sophisticated at navigating these interfaces. At the same time, the influence of offline media on their desires and discovery behavior remains pervasive, even if total time spent with these media is declining. Huge also observed childrens’ online behavior. We discovered that this cohort is far savvier online than most marketers give them credit for.
Kids are sophisticated negotiators who understand family budgetary constraints.
When children have set their sights on a particular item – regardless of whether it’s a new toy, game, or sports gear – they plan in advance how to convince their parents to buy it for them. They have a variety of negotiation tactics and rhetorical arguments in their pitch arsenal. They may present a budgetary argument (such as the cost savings in the sale price) or an explanation of benefits to their parents. Bargaining is another strategy, with kids offering to do chores in exchange for products they want. If those tactics fail, they resort to an age-old tactic, begging, as an alternative strategy.
While children may not truly understand the monetary implications of asking for a particular item, they do have a sense of where the upper limit of their parent’s budget lies. Several of the children interviewed would filter their shopping browsing by “clearance” or use a sale price as part of their pitch to parents.
Key Takeaway: Retailers should make the clearance and sale section fairly obvious to children and adults alike. Additionally, offering tools to parents – such as a budget tool that allows kids to save up, or ways to earn points for completing household chores that go toward the purchase of an item – can aid in peaceful accords.
Kids are already familiar with e-commerce conventions.
While marketers are careful to avoid the appearance of selling directly to children, the truth is kids are already fairly sophisticated shoppers when it comes to navigating retail experiences. All of the focus group participants were very comfortable with common e-commerce conventions such as filtering, searching, and the “add to cart” functionality. They showed an understanding of delivery time as well, with several talking about the number of “business days” it takes to receive something bought online. They also know how to find clearance pricing and proactively seek it out on retail sites, using it as a bargaining chip in their negotiations.
Additionally, many of the participants, when searching for an item, don’t begin by navigating to the “Kids” section of a site, even when one is available. The exception is search, where kids used phrases such as “[X item] for girls.”
Key Takeaway: Designing an online retail experience with items geared towards children doesn’t require rethinking the conventions of e-commerce to suit them. Children influence purchase decisions, but ultimately parents are the end-user in these experiences. Designing for cross-generational audiences is a challenge but a surmountable one, given kids’ facility with navigating adult sites. If there is a designated kid’s section, make sure there is a clear navigational path to find it.
Kids are highly visual surfers, but aesthetics aren't very important to them.
In the focus groups, participants routinely glossed over copy and went straight to the images. When searching for an item on a retail site, the filters they used tended to be visual, such as color or pattern. Other visual prompts such as a red slash through an item’s price were also mentioned as the best way to see if it was on sale.
Additionally, while the participants all began their searches for items on Google, they almost immediately toggled to Google Images search to browse for products. Not surprisingly, kids are driven by images; overall aesthetics, however, aren’t a primary concern. Kids are functional and task-oriented browsers. The vast majority of their visual interactive experiences, on sites like Cool Math 4 Kids, would make most designers shudder. Bright colors, cluttered interfaces, and non-intuitive navigation are endemic to these experiences but are not necessarily seen as an impediment to use. Rather than drive kids away, they appear to act as beacons, alerting children that these are experiences meant for them, rather than for adults.
Key Takeaway: This generation is increasingly dependent on visual cues, rather than copy. To design a digital experience that appeals to them, use large imagery, animation, and video rather than text. Designers and developers should make sure the aesthetic isn’t too sophisticated, lest their target audience assume the experience is intended for adults.
Kids love customizing their experience and building something unique.
The ability to immerse themselves in an experience and build something customized appeals to kids. Almost without fail, all the participants mentioned that they enjoy building their own worlds and exploring them in Minecraft. Participants also liked being surprised, appreciating Easter Eggs like the 'Don't click this' button on the Nickelodeon site, which “slimes” the screen.
They will seek out ways to customize their experience in ways adults may consider functional, but for children is a form of play. For instance, one participant mentioned using Papa John’s pizza-builder to add and remove toppings, and choose which side of the pizza the topping should go on. She enjoys “playing” on this site, even when her family isn’t ordering dinner.
Additionally, many of the participants mention using a site’s shopping cart as a workaround for a wish list, which typically requires a login. When they find items they like, they add the items to their cart and share it with their parents later.
Key Takeaway: Clearly, the universe of what constitutes “play” for kids is far more expansive than adults’ narrow definition. Allowing children the ability to customize their experience – especially in unexpected ways – appeals to them deeply.
Peers and family are extremely influential tastemakers.
While children enjoy engaging in “play” through the use of customization features, as seen in experiences such as Nike iD, the influence of their peers and siblings is pervasive in determining what’s “cool.” Repeatedly, participants noted that something is cool “if a lot of people have it.” This dependence on friends to help delineate what makes something cool seems at odds with the desire to customize items. In fact, children are not that different in that aspiration than teenagers or adults, who want simultaneously to fit in with their friends and co-workers and also to express their individual taste. This tension, born from the countercultural ethos of the 1960s, sought authenticity and rejected conformity while at the same time was co-opted by mainstream popular culture and marketing. It is still relevant today.
Additionally, children have a very different perception of what it means to “share” online than marketers do. For kids, sharing is a fundamentally communal experience. They rarely share links via chat or email with their friends. This may be due, in part, to a lack of sharing functionality on many children’s sites in compliance with COPPA. Facebook’s age limit is 13 and over. Twitter no longer posts an age limit but adoption in the under 13-set seems marginal at best. National Geographic seems to understand that the primary sharing platforms for this group are email and IM, and as such, videos on its kid’s section allow visitors to share only via those channels, as opposed to YouTube, which offers multiple sharing options.
However, participants say they love to share videos and games with friends on play dates and at school. Sharing is primarily done via word-of-mouth in the real world, rather than online.
Key Takeaway: There is an opportunity for brands to create more communal experiences on their web sites and mobile apps that are specifically geared for kids. As seen in the National Geographic example above, cues to share are simple and recognize the limitations of kids’ digital communication toolset.
Offline channels are still critical tools in content discovery.
When we asked participants how they find out about new content or products they want, most cited a TV commercial. Despite the increase in time spent with mobile devices such as phones and tablets (within these focus groups, every child had access to a tablet and preferred to use it to surf online, regardless of family income), the influence of TV is still pervasive. Seeing an ad for something on TV is still a powerful way to fan the flames of desire for children. Additionally, offline channels such as magazines and catalogues (the children have a hard time distinguishing the difference between the two) are also potent motivators for choosing the products they covet.
Key Takeaway: Children love content that speaks to them, regardless of channel. TV remains a powerful platform for content discovery, and children still watch commercials. Receiving magazines in their name in the mail also makes them feel special. Marketers or media companies hoping to reach this cohort will need to be omnichannel, and create experiences that also feel exclusive, just as the Lego Club magazine does.
E-Commerce experiences drive visits to the physical store.
Not unlike their parents, kids often browse for products online before making a trip to the bricks-and-mortar location. They often shop for gear online (often with a parent), acquaint themselves with the product selection, and then visit the retail location to make their actual purchase. Several acknowledged the immediate gratification of going to the store and making a purchase versus having to wait five to ten business days to receive their item.
Key Takeaway: By now, most brands and retailers have built “find a store” functionality into their sites. However, as this generation comes of age and makes no distinction between the online and offline experience, providing real time information on inventory availability will become crucial to conversion.