Amazon Welcomes Teens With New Parent-Controlled Shopping Allowance

By Katherine Bindley Features Dow Jones Newswires

Not so long ago, an allowance was something that involved a parent producing dollar bills from a wallet, and the child spending said dollars at the mall. That sounds quaint compared with Amazon Inc.'s new program, launching Wednesday, which lets parents manage--and fund--online-shopping accounts for their teens.

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When parents create an account, tied to payment methods of their choice, they can invite up to four teen users to create unique logins and download the Amazon shopping app to their own devices.

"We know teens are all about their phones," said Michael Carr, vice president of Amazon Households. "It's basically hard to get them not to look at their phones and so it's going to be a mobile experience."

The teens get free rein to shop around--to a point. How much a teen is allowed to spend and what they buy can be, but doesn't have to be, parent-regulated.

Every time their teen places an order, parents can choose to receive an approval request via text or email (though not from the Amazon app). The notification includes a description of the item, a picture and the total cost. By replying to the request, parents have the ability to grant or reject the potential purchase.

Family spending features aren't new to the tech giants: Alphabet Inc.'s Google introduced the Google Play Family Library last year and Apple Inc. has Family Sharing, which among other things lets parents approve digital media purchases by their children. Amazon itself offers child-safe, all-you-can-eat media for its younger users in the form of its subscription FreeTime Unlimited plans, but it's venturing into new territory by allowing children to shop in the store.

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"We're empowering the parents. So we're not going to try to make decisions for them," said Mr. Carr. "But we're going to give them the information they need to make those decisions."

Teens get the option to include a message (read: plea) with their request, such as "This is the game I was telling you about" or "Everyone in my school has this."

Parents wishing to experiment in exercises of trust can choose to give their teen a spending limit per order and opt out of the item-approval step all together, leaving them with a notification that includes the details of what's been purchased.

Parents can't micromanage their teens' purchases further, however. There's no option, for instance, to specify that the virtual allowance can only be spent on books, not games.

Still, Mr. Carr said the program allows parents to be more aware of what their children are buying than they would be otherwise.

"The way it is today, parents have to give their teenager their credit card or their login details. They're really not in the loop on any of these things," he said.

If for some reason parents completely miss a no-no purchase, there's still recourse, said Amazon. Parents can "cancel and return any item in accordance with Amazon's policies."

Though the program is intended for 13- to 17-year-olds, it's the parents who ultimately choose who gets a login--Amazon isn't in the business of checking IDs.

"We're not going to bust into your house and try to verify the age of your kid," said Mr. Carr.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 11, 2017 09:14 ET (13:14 GMT)