Unlike adults, 16- to 22-year-old online consumers have quickly diversified their online purchases to include a richer variety of product categories. They have also developed sophisticated approaches to online shopping. According to a new Report from Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR), these young surfers arm themselves with tools that transform them from passive consumers into sophisticated shoppers, seeking out deals and convenience and demanding channel synchronization.

“Online shopping comes naturally to young consumers. More than one-third of 16- to 22-year-olds will buy online this year, spending $4.5 billion — more than 10% of their disposable income,” said Ekaterina O. Walsh, analyst, Technographics® Data & Analysis. “By 2004, a clear majority of young consumers will shop online, compared with 46% of adults.”

Analysis of the shopping carts of young Internet consumers reveals that convenience items — low-cost, low-risk purchases — lead the way, including music, books, and apparel. Researched products — high-cost, high-risk — follow behind, with one in four young shoppers buying computer hardware. As with adults, fewer young Net shoppers purchase replenishment goods — moderate-cost products made with high frequency. This includes health products, cosmetics, and grocery items. Of those who have been buying online for between six months and one year, 21% of young consumers have bought PC hardware online, versus 5% of adults; 16% have bought consumer electronics online, versus 10% of adults; and 6% have bought groceries online, versus 2% of adults.

Today’s young consumers arm themselves with a variety of tools when they shop online, including price comparisons, demand-driven pricing, and coupons. Although two-thirds of adult Internet shoppers remain unaware of the existence of price-comparison sites, roughly 60% of young Net buyers have already used one. Forty-five percent of young consumers have visited a demand-driven pricing site, most often setting prices for travel, books, or software. They complete their shopping arsenal with coupons, with 60% visiting sites that let them print coupons to use on- and offline.

As eager as young consumers have been in adopting the Internet, they haven’t abandoned offline stores. As a result, these shoppers expect cross-channel synchronization. A positive experience in a retailer’s offline store encourages them to try its online branch, and viceversa. For example, in-store promotions entice young shoppers to explore retailers’ Web sites. From cross-channel retailers, these shoppers expect to be able to pick up or return online purchases in physical stores and want to order out-of-stock items online. Young consumers also use coupons freely both on- and offline.

“Young consumers and adults frequent many of the same online stores. Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and CDNOW rank highly with both age groups,” added Walsh. “But young Net buyers’ top sites also include Gen-Y-focused stores, including dELiAs.cOm and Alloy.”

For the Report “Young Net Buyers Zoom Ahead” Forrester twice surveyed more than 10,000 young Net surfers in North America on their attitudes and behaviors regarding shopping and purchasing on- and offline.