Teen mall denizens are out in force, but they want more bang for their bucks.

This story first appeared in the July 8, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

An updated survey of 1,687 teenage shoppers across the U.S. in April showed 54 percent were spending more or about the same as they did in the previous six months, but they were value-conscious and concerned about the economy. Fifty-two percent said they were shopping at less expensive stores, 43 percent reduced spending and 48 percent were using more coupons at the mall.

Despite rising vacancy rates and lower overall sales because of the recession, the mall remains a favored destination for youths ages 12 to 17, according to the study released by New York-based Scarborough Research and Arbitron, a media and marketing research firm. All respondents had visited a mall within the previous 30 days.

The first part of the survey, based on questioning in the fourth quarter of last year, found that 71 percent of teen respondents said they go to the mall to shop, 57 percent to eat, 49 percent to socialize and 40 percent seek entertainment, primarily through movies and video games.

Fifty-six percent of the teens in the first-of-its-kind study said they spent $50 or more on their most recent mall visit, with 29 percent spending $100 or more.

“For teens, it’s socially important for them to be at the mall — to them, it’s an actual activity,” said Jane Traub, senior vice president of research for Scarborough. “And looking good is important to them — being attractive is important to them. While buying an accessory or an item of clothing may be frivolous to an adult right now, to a teen, it’s still socially important to have these items.”

The report, “Teen Mall Shopping Attitudes and Usage Study and Economy Update Study,” also asked about shopping preferences for 40 national retail store brands. The half-dozen most often shopped retailers were Old Navy, J.C. Penney, American Eagle Outfitters, Aéropostale, Claire’s and Macy’s.

“This is going to be the first group of teens and pre-teens in three generations who are being brought up on a budget,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group.

The concern about budgets and the desire for value is affecting retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, which has not reduced prices this year. The New Albany, Ohio-based chain has been confronted by fashion missteps and weakened by its higher prices in a highly promotional market.

But some teen stores, including Aéropostale, have been finding their stride during the downturn. The New York-based specialty store chain reported an 18.9 percent climb in sales to $1.89 billion last year, along with a 16 percent increase in net income to $149.4 million, or $2.21 per diluted share — as well as a same-store sales increase of 19 percent in May, and 20 percent in April. Julian Geiger, chairman and chief executive officer, credited the company’s enhancement of its offerings.

The Scarborough-Arbitron study also examined the effectiveness of mall marketing on teen shoppers. Among the findings: 95 percent said they noticed any form of mall advertising, 91 percent noticed poster display ads, 68 percent spent more than two hours at the mall on a typical visit and 75 percent visited the Web sites of mall stores.

“In-mall events, such as live demonstrations, fashion shows and even concerts, could provide an opportunity for marketers to bring their brand to life by structuring these activities around the teens’ mall experience,” said Traub. “Marketers could take advantage of creating a positive spending environment. A good campaign can make a powerful statement in any of these formats if the creative execution is successful.”

In what might be the most hopeful conclusion of the report, Traub said 61 percent of the respondents said they will increase spending when the economy improves. Almost half think opening their wallets at the mall is helping the economy.


Mall Stores Shopped Most Often by Teens
Old Navy: 46%
J.C. Penney: 43%
American Eagle Outfitters: 39%
Aéropostale: 35%
Claire’s: 35%
Macy’s: 34%
Top Forms of Mall Advertising Noticed by Teen Shoppers
Poster Displays: 91%
Hanging Ad Banners: 85%
Sampling: 77%
Promotional Events: 58%
TV/Video Screens: 57%
Interactive Displays/Kiosks: 48%
Moving Images Projected on Floor/Wall: 31%
Source: Scarborough Research and Arbitron
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