For teens coming of age in the middle or tail end of a recession, shopping isn't quite what it used to be. While not all teens have seen their spending money sliced, many teens who rely on part-time or summer jobs have had to take a backseat to more qualified (and available) adults. YouthBeat data shows that most parents opted not to cut their teens' allowance in 2009, despite their own financial sacrifices, but with teens' day to day costs rising, this group is definitely feeling the pinch. In fact, tweens and teens in our YouthBeat panel told us that they were concerned about the economy more than any other social issue - including the environment.
So when the going gets tough, where do tweens and teens go? Online. Not only is it "free," (at least from teens' perspective), but it offers a chance to trade-out offline activities with cheaper, more customized versions that can save both time and money. Has going to the movies gotten too expensive? Save money on gas and stream a video right from home. In need of a new game? Check out the free options online first (which over 50% of kids, tweens and teens report doing in the second half of 2009).
And if you're a girl who absolutely needs a new pair of shoes, you can feed your fix with one easy click.
Maybe you can't have that designer bag in real life, but your MeDoll can. Remodeling your room might not be in your parents' budget, but one visit to Stardoll's design store and you can not only pick out a couch and a lamp, but can create a unique pattern that's perfect for your pad's curtains. (Parents Beware: your daughters might care about curtains a lot more after a visit to Stardolls...And, watch out for the impact on your budget the next time you want to re-do her oh-so conventional offline room!) You might not be able to afford tix to see Avril Lavigne, but your MeDoll can be friends with her MeDoll. And if you fantasize about a trip to France, you can purchase scenery that puts the Eiffel Tower outside your virtual window.
For tweens and teens who are beginning or deep into experimenting with their identities, Stardoll makes taking a fashion risk a bit less risky. If you feel like a Fallen Angel one day and Baby Phat the next, you can find what you're looking for in Starplaza. But the difference: money goes much further in these online worlds than it does in the offline world. So for a tween or teen who might aspire to designer duds, but can't quite come up with the cash, Stardolls is the perfect way to start a couture collection.
The only catch - it's make believe. So you can't wear that outfit outside your home, and the only one to get the skinny on your skinny jeans are the friends who have also transitioned from the real world to this virtual one. But tweens and teens don't seem to mind.
One tween we talked to described Stardolls as, "A super-fun place I never get bored [of] because there is so much to do." According to her dad, "she has a pretty nice condo in her Stardoll world."
Will these brands ever make more from their sale of virtual goods than their sale of real ones? Probably not. The feel of real matters too much. But perhaps it's a way for them to gain favor with a potential audience before it's truly their time. And want to know if that forward-reaching style will pay off next season? Produce it online first and see what happens! But whether Stardoll is a game changer or not, it's certainly a place that makes an impression on its users. And we think it's worth a peek...Don't be surprised if you find yourself hooked.