NPD’s Marshal Cohen and TRU’s Michael Wood share results from ongoing research of the teen market.
This story first appeared in the April 10, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
LOS ANGELES — Nothing is as it seems as far as teens are concerned.
That was the message from Marshal Cohen, co-president of market research firm NPDFashionWorld.
Every year for a decade, teens seem to have gotten less concerned about healthy eating habits. Retailers have accordingly jumped on the plus-size bandwagon to emulate one of the industry’s hottest new retail concepts, Hot Topic’s plus-size chain, Torrid.
But Cohen’s cold, hard statistics culled from weekly teen surveys draws a vastly different picture.
“It’s one of the smallest sub-segments of the junior business,” he said, pointing out the plus-size junior category accounted for only 6 percent of the total junior market in 2002. “Is that really where our best interests would be? If I wanted to get into retail, I’ve got to tell you, I’d think about petite juniors before plus-size juniors.” Petite junior shoppers accounted for 45 percent of the total junior business last year. “It’s a substantially larger part of the pot,” he added.
In a similar twist, when teens and tweens name their favorite brands, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap and Pacific Sunwear are the buzz words. But since their parents shop at Wal-Mart, Kmart and Kohl’s, most teen dollars end up at discounters.
“Teens may say one thing but what they do is something completely different,” Cohen said.
Cohen cited women’s pajama sales that spiked 6.2 percent in 2002, reversing a trend that saw women’s total apparel sales decline 6.3 percent in the same year, as another poignant example. The men’s pajama sales shot up 33 percent for the year. But it’s not because men are suddenly throwing pajama parties.
“Women teenagers are buying men’s pajamas, giving the top to Dad to wash the car with and wearing the bottoms as streetwear,” he explained. “We’re also seeing parents beginning to wear pajama bottoms. This is an incredibly important market to recognize.”
Even while total apparel sales dropped 1.7 percent to $163.2 billion in 2002, female teens accounted for 14 percent, or $12.6 billion, of total female spending of $90.6 billion. Tweens spent $5.5 billion, or 6 percent, of the total female market last year. Teens and tweens together account for 11.1 percent of the market share, but only represent 8.8 percent of the population.
“This is a market that outspends its size,” Cohen said.
While teens and tweens may be more resilient than other demographic groups when economic downturns occur, they are also not entirely immune. Total teen spending in 2002 dropped 3.7 percent to $20.9 billion, while tween shoppers spent $10.1 billion, or 4.6 percent, less than they did the prior year, according to NPD research.
“It’s critical to recognize that even the younger consumers, the tweens, are beginning to learn to shop for value and are talking about value shopping as a cool concept,” said Cohen, adding that quality and service are becoming as important to this customer as price.
At the same time, vying for teen and tween dollars is getting more competitive. Discount stores are doing a better job catering to the younger consumer with more fashionable items at lower price points, while department stores have been losing even their target market of young Baby Boomers.
“All this marketing that Target and Kmart are doing with Mossimo and Joe Boxer has been working,” Cohen said. “The value stores have started getting into the fashion business…and this is something you need to recognize.”
Discounters have even made impressive strides in fragrance, capturing 55 percent of teens’ and tweens’ total dollars. The next most popular destinations for scents are specialty stores (46 percent) and department stores (21 percent), with products from Bath & Body Works, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret and Gap ranking among their favorites.
Top reasons why they purchase fragrance are because they smelled it on someone else, a friend or family member told them about it or they read about it in a magazine. But most teens, 75 percent, said they purchased a scent because they tried or tested it at the counter.
“Spraying works on teens,” Cohen said.
As for where their music tastes lie, Eminem, Linkin Park, Nelly, Avril Lavigne, ’NSync, Ja Rule and Britney Spears are top picks.
“And for those who are wondering what’s going on with Britney? Yes, she’s declining,” Cohen stated. “Nelly and Avril are all about basics and getting back to the real world.”
Music videos have not lost their magic touch, remaining a viable venue for influencing teens today, he said.
So what’s most critical when it comes to attracting a teen shopper? It’s about better customer service, educating the consumer on why they should purchase something and ensuring sales managers are on the sales floor, according to Cohen. Retailers must also search for ways to cross merchandise the two most important things in a teen’s life: music and clothes.
“Why don’t we have stores that take 16 square feet to create a music room for teens” and utilize that as a way to add on purchases, he asked attendees. “People are thinking twice or maybe three times before they make any purchase and it’s going to really be important to convince them why they should make this purchase. It’s really all about offering them an opportunity to express themselves.”
— Kristen Young
LOS ANGELES — Teens may make up the fastest-growing segment of the population — 33 million strong, and rising 7.3 percent annually — but quantity doesn’t equal quality.
According to Michael Wood, vice present of Northbrook, Ill.-based Teenage Research Unlimited, who presented here, not all teenagers are created alike. Marketers of apparel firms need to rethink who their message targets. If they’re not hitting those “edge” teens who make up about 11 percent of the population and disdain the mainstream in favor of individuality, then the rest of the bunch may not notice.
“They set the trends and every other group — the influencers, the conformists and the passives — follow,” he said.
As to how big to play up or play down a brand, the word is that allover logos may not always be popular, but Wood emphasized that teens do embrace brands as an expression of themselves. A teen may stop in at Pacific Sunwear for some back-to-school shopping and feel confident that he or she is hip.
“[Brands] are a protective shield, a coat of armor, they help them fit the part without actually acting a certain stereotype,” he said.
Where and how teens shop are also front-burner questions for retailers. Wood said retailers can’t ignore the importance of other shopping channels. About 40 percent of teens in the past year bought items online, as well as from a catalog. Before buying at a store, 37 percent browsed a catalog and 23 percent looked at a Web site.
Two statistics surprised attendees: J.C. Penney is the number one catalog that teens shop and eBay is the top Web site for their apparel needs.
With the virtual sensory assault facing teens — from TV and radio to e-mail — marketers need to stand out from the clutter. How to communicate a message to teens is almost more important than the medium itself, Wood said. His top tenets for crafting ads were: be entertaining to stand out, communicate clearly to provide information, be credible, connect the brand to the ad and stay age-appropriate.
Some best practice examples he highlighted were the brightly colored Starburst ad with the tag “Let the mooching begin,” the playful, Mavi “rearview” ad and the caricature-driven ad of Steve Madden.
Another teen trend hard to escape is their love affair with discounters. Wood said 81 percent of teens shopped at stores such as Target and Wal-Mart for clothing, compared with just three years ago when they shopped the value retailers for CDs, socks and underwear. The shift is partly the result of a tougher economy and the additional gear available to teens, such as cell phones, computers and other gadgets.
“There are competing factors for that dollar and those items have to have that value equation that makes sense to teens,” he said.
Still, he said, even in times of war and economic malaise, teens are resilient and they have more wiggle room to spare. Discretionary income makes up 85 percent of teen spending power, compared with adults at less than 10 percent.
“War doesn’t affect their daily lives — they have a party on Saturday night and still need clothes to wear,” he said.
— Nola Sarkisian-Miller
What’s “In” With Girls?
1. Low-rise jeans 83%
2. Tight shirts 80%
3. Short skirts 76%
4. Ripped jeans 41%