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The Power of Youth

March 22, 2012

Catherine Salfino

Today’s persistent tweens are turning out to be a boon for the retail industry, which can bank on them no matter the economic climate.

This new generation of 7-to-13 year olds would respond to the old adage, “Children are to be seen, not heard,” with, “LOL, take me to the mall!”  They know what they want and when they want it.  Even during the recession, tweens were happy to plan shopping trips built around their wants and needs.

“Tweens are a force,” says Golden Gate University’s Kit Yarrow, psychology department chair, and author of Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail. “Not only within their households, but also in society.”

Josh Weil, co-founder of Youth Trends, a William Morris Endeavor subsidiary, says there has been a “clear societal shift” where parents now want to be friends with their young ones.

“Throughout the Great Recession, the typical American household was making sacrifices, like going out to dinner less.  One of the last dominoes to fall was non-essential purchases for children — clothing, footwear, accessories.  It’s counterintuitive, but people would say, ‘Even though we planned a Hawaiian vacation for the last two years and the breadwinner got laid off, we better get to Abercrombie for our kid’s jeans.'”

To be sure, the majority of young shoppers in the U.S. are into fashion, almost as much as their older teen counterparts. Among 13 year olds (the youngest age of those surveyed) 29% “love” clothes shopping, while 35% “enjoy” it, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey.  Among those age 14 to 18, 32% “love” it, while 29% “enjoy” the pastime.

Yarrow says the country’s youth-centric culture encourages tweens to let parents know what they want.

“Similarly, parents are much more likely to think of their tweens as having valid and valuable opinions than previous generations of parents,” Yarrow says. “Therein lies the influence. They talk, listen and care about each other’s opinions.”

As a group, America’s 21 million tweens account for about $43 billion in spending power annually, according to EPM Communications’ “Tween Spending & Influence” report. This purchasing influence encompasses apparel, cell phones, family vacations and more.

“They’re not the ones actually pulling the trigger on the transaction itself,” Weil says.  “Since they don’t have any money themselves, they have to influence the parent to take them to Justice or 77Kids or wherever.”

On average, 13 year olds spend approximately $54 on clothes each month, while teens age 14 to 18 spend $64, according to Monitor data.  And since tweens usually rely on an adult to make the purchase, 71% say they plan most of their apparel purchases, rather than impulse shop.

Though the younger set is not paying for their apparel, the majority (59%) say they shop for clothes on sale, according to the Monitor survey.

“Compared to tween shopping behaviors five or six years ago, today’s tweens are more open to a wider variety of shopping venues,” Yarrow says. “Getting a deal is smart, whereas pre-recession tweens were less enamored with bargain shopping.”

Regardless of price, these young shoppers are hip to keeping up with the latest trends, even though the fad may be extremely short-lived.

More than 6 out of 10 (63%) 13 year olds say they stay on the cutting edge of fashion or adopt fashion changes quickly, the Monitor survey finds.

“Even though there’s a sense of homogeny with this age group, their nature is tremendously fickle and they want the newest version of a brand,” Weil says.  “Beyond that, there’s the idea of peer pressure and hoarding aspirational brands… the idea that, ‘When I have that brand, it says something about me.'”

Yarrow says tweens are always looking for the next thrill.

“There is so much to choose from, so it has to be something unique to inspire a purchase.  But not too unique, since tweens still like to feel similar to their friends.”

More than six out of 10 tweens (62%) get their apparel ideas from people they see regularly, compared to 50% of 14 to 18 year olds.

Just as mall stores attract teens, they beckon the pre-teen set. Abercrombie & Fitch reaches out to tweens with Abercrombie Kids, Gap has Gap Kids, Aeropostale offers PS Aeropostale and J. Crew has Crew Cuts. Of course, stores like Children’s Place, Delia’s and Justice are tween specific. And department stores offer tween labels like Jessica and Ashlee Simpson’s Jessica Simpson Girls, or Madonna’s Material Girl.

More than three out of 10 13 year olds (31%) shop for most of their clothes at chain stores, followed by mass merchants (22%) and off-price stores (13%), Monitor data reveal.

Shoppers looking for value for their still-growing tweens can find it with the H&M Kids or Forever 21 Girls lines.

“We’ve seen Forever21 shopping visits and purchases among tween girls grow 20% over the past two years,” Weil says.  “Even though some of the styles are mature, mom is okay with it because the price points are more manageable.”

As for online shopping, the Monitor shows 53% of tweens browse online, even if reality stops them from actually buying.

“Online is important from a ‘click to mortar’ standpoint,” Weil says.  “Tweens might peruse Crewcuts for J.Crew — and that’s leading up to a purchase they want to make that weekend.”