NEW YORK — Teens are heading to their computers with a mouse in one hand and a credit card in the other.
In an economy where dot-coms are not making as much money as they once were, teen girls are surely keeping e-commerce alive. According to Rob Callender, trend manager at Teenage Research Unlimited, teens are most comfortable with modern technology and still look to the Internet regularly for advice, fun and shopping. Teens, he said, go online even more often today then they did before.
A study conducted by the company in the spring revealed that 37 percent of teens have made a purchase on the Internet at one point or another, a higher percentage than in the past. However, that number was dominated by purchases made by teen boys rather than girls. Of the items purchased, apparel came in at number one with 25 percent of the vote, CDs were second at 19 percent and sports equipment and books were tied at 10 percent.
“If the site is providing a service to them, it will be successful,” he said. “As for the sites that only sell clothes and are not providing any other exciting features, I am sure they are not doing as well.”
Teens see shopping as a social event, he noted. They go to the mall with friends or their parents, look at magazines, play video games and shop for clothes. So, Callender said Web sites should model their entertainment value as a mall would and provide a variety of services on the site. He used gadzooks.com as an example.
“It has a store, but also information about music, contests, movies and horoscopes,” he said. “These are all things that motivate the customer.”
Jane Rinsler Buckingham, president of Youth Intelligence, agrees.
“Teens tend to go to sites through word of mouth,” she said. “They go there if their friends go there. As for shopping, they tend to browse the stores online that they already know and then purchase at the store.”
At Delia’s, orders placed on the delias.com site and through the catalog account for $83.7 million or 61 percent of the company’s sales. The company offers many services on the site. For example: once the customer shows interest in a particular product, there is a service to recommend other pieces to complete the outfit.
Also, Delia’s has recently made it easier for the customer to shop the catalog online by showing the exact catalog she received in the mail. They also send e-mail alerts to frequent buyers to inform them of what’s new on the site.
“The Web is where our customer chooses to shop,” said Evan Guillemin, chief operating officer. “It’s where she spends her time and her money.”
Guillemin insists that teens find a way to pay for the products they want and if they are under 18, the credit card comes from the parents.
“We have a database of about three million buyers who gave us their credit card numbers and it has never been a problem,” said Hilary Chasin, executive vice president of marketing at Delia’s. “They take their time on the site, look for what they want and then get mom in the room for the purchase.”
Delia’s also uses its Web site to gather information about the customer and find out what she is looking to spend. For example, when the company was looking to revamp its offerings for the home collections, a survey was sent out to find out how they would like to decorate their rooms.
At Alloy Inc., a media, direct-marketing and marketing services company targeting generation Y, the Internet is a major part of business. It’s Web site, alloy.com, was launched in 1996 and according to Jim Johnson, president and chief operating officer, there has been “strong growth every year since the launch.”
“The site accounts for about 30 or 40 percent of the business,” he said. “Our theory is that when teens go shopping, they are going to the mall to do more than just shop, so we added these areas to the site much like a mall would have.”
New York-based Alloy said major revenue gains for the first quarter ended April 30 led to net income of $3.1 million, reversing a year-ago loss of $7.4 million. Total sales spiked 78.6 percent to $50.4 million, with merchandise revenues jumping 30.9 percent to $31.1 million, while sponsorship and other revenues kicked in a more than fourfold increase to $19.4 million.
Junior clothing makers are also finding the Internet useful for business. Candie’s launched a Web site in November that sells the company’s clothes, shoes and accessories. It also uses the Web to showcase the Candie’s Foundation, which raises awareness for teenage pregnancy. The foundation sells T-shirts with the phrase: “Be Sexy: It doesn’t mean you have to have sex,” which have been big sellers on the site.
“We sold more of the ‘sexy’ shirts online than we did in the stores,” said Ken Ruck, director of interactive for Candie’s, who pointed out that the site gets anywhere from 15 million to 25 million hits per month. “Teens head to the Web more than any other age group.”
Ruck said customers also look to the Candie’s site for information about the retail locations. When they find there is no Candie’s store in their immediate area, they buy merchandise from the site.
“They use the site to look at what we have in the stores and then go to the stores to purchase,” he said.
For Los Angeles-based Rampage, the company has seen a large increase in teen ’Net surfers stopping at its site, but Web sales are still not a large part of the business.
“It’s successful, but not wildly successful,” said Francheska Anderson, vice president of Rampage.com. “It accounts for about 1 percent of the business.”
Still, Rampage advertises the site in all of its print ads, as well as on hang tags. It has found prom seasons to be its most successful on the site.
“So many parents placed orders for their daughters’ prom dresses,” she said.
For Los Angeles-based junior denim brand Tyte, the Internet site is used as a magazine. According to owner Alden Halpern, it no longer sells products online.
“We used to, but it became too difficult and not very cost effective,” he said. “It’s more for the kids to see a company profile and for us to get feedback from the customer. It gives fashion advice and trend information as it changes, so there is a reason for her to come back later.”
Halpern said the biggest benefit of having the site has been the ability to reach the customer and find out what they want from the brand.
“We learned a lot about our customer through the site,” he said. “They really do live on the Web.”