The Even Odder Ways Smartphones Are Changing Our Shopping Habits

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The Even Odder Ways Smartphones Are Changing Our Shopping Habits

By Jordan Speer - 10/02/2017

We often talk about how technology, in particular the smartphone, is changing how people shop, and how retailers are striving to respond, whether that’s with omnichannel inventory management and fulfillment, downsizing brick-and-mortar stores or adding digital to them.

Because it’s really all happened so quickly and because we’re living it, rather than looking back on it, it can be difficult to get a bird’s eye view of just how much our smartphones are having an impact on a wide range of human behaviors, but an article in The Atlantic last month did a pretty good job of it.

In “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” psychologist Jean Twenge discusses the impact that smartphones have made on Gen Z, specifically the kids who came of age in 2012, when she noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. She saw sharp differences of a sort she’d never seen before in all of her studies, both of degree and kind.

“The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.”

What happened in 2012? Says Twenge, it was the precise moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent. Today, three out of four American teens own an iPhone. In the time since the iPhone came on the scene in force, teens have grown to “like [their] phones more than [they] like actual people,” as one interviewee put it. And as a result of this massive increase in time with their phones, teens are now less likely to get pregnant, less likely to be in car wrecks and less likely to drink alcohol or do drugs.

“More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been,” she says.

At its core, this article is about the harmful effects of the smartphone on a generation: This group of teens may be “physically safer,” but it comes at great cost to their mental and emotional well-being.

That’s a huge and important topic, and one worth tackling, but it’s the first part of that quote — “more comfortable in their bedrooms” — that sparked the business side of my brain, not least because of a conversation I’d just had with Guido Campello of lingerie and sleepwear brand Cosabella.

Cosabella is a family business; it’s been around for 35 years and it has witnessed — or launched — all of the major evolutions in the lingerie business during that time, from bodysuits that became popular to eliminate VPL (visible panty line) during an era when sexual harassment of women in the office was on the rise, to thongs that moved from closed-door titillation to mainstream daily wear.

During the past two years, Campello has seen a surge in sales of sleepwear, which has become the company’s hottest-selling category. That surprised me. Don’t we all have a closet full of comfy t-shirts to sleep in already? Probably so, but on the style-o-meter, old t-shirts score low. Campello is pretty sure he knows the reason for the spike in sleepwear.

See above. Teens are spending more time lounging at home. What are they doing there? They’re taking selfies, and posting them on social media. While they may not want to get dressed up and go out, they still want to look good for those photos they’re sharing with all of their friends, he says.

That makes perfect sense, and it’s quite mind-blowing. An entire category of apparel is jamming (no pun intended) because teenagers (and others) have become less social, or differently social, and are hanging out in their bedrooms.

I suspect we are only at the very brink of the era of the smartphone, and all of its new attendant behaviors and habits.

It’s not always easy to identify and predict how new technologies and events will impact your business, but this tale is a reminder that it’s always a good idea to pull the lens out as far as you can to get the biggest picture possible.

That likely won’t produce the most flattering selfie — but it might give you insights into the next evolution in consumer behavior, and you’ll need that to stay one step ahead of today’s customer.


Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel

Teens are spending much of their time in their bedrooms and driving sleepwear sales to look good in all the selfies they're sharing with friends.
Teens are spending more time lounging at home. What are they doing there? They’re taking selfies, and posting them on social media. While they may not want to get dressed up and go out, they still want to look good for photos they’re sharing with friends.

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