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Last week C+R’s Mary McIlrath and Darren Breese took our shopper insights on the road at the Shopper Insights in Action conference to bring the latest on teens and shopping to an audience of marketers, retail experts and researchers. For C+R, this was the perfect opportunity to showcase, and to bring together, two of our areas of expertise: deep youth understanding and insights into the shopping habits of today’s consumers.

This presentation showcased a research method that has received much talk in the industry – using apps to get in-the-moment information and insight from respondents. In partnership with Revelations, our team conducted a Digital Shopping Immersion, in which we were able to accompany 30 teens, armed with smartphones, while they shopped. Without a researcher infringing on their space, we were able to see what they bought, what they considered, and what made this retailer the right choice for the item. In addition, we brought YouthBeat data on teen shopping habits and teen technology usage to the table, allowing us to validate our qualitative findings among a much larger sample.  And finally, we tapped into our YouthBeat qualitative panel, comprised of families from across the country, to gain additional documentary footage of teens’ favorite sites for shopping, their prized purchases and their ideal retail experiences.

In case you missed it, we thought we would share our top five insights on teens and shopping:

  1. Today’s teens spend but don’t splurge. At YouthBeat, we estimate teens’ collective net worth at just over $8 billion – so it’s no surprise that this group spends! But economic concerns have not escaped their radar. In fact, the issue that teens express most concern over right now (and for the past two years) is the economy, followed closely by “joblessness.” It makes sense that this cohort has grown up with more sensitivity towards sales, and more common sense when it comes to how they spend. When we asked their parents how the economy has affected their teens, we see that teens continue to shop, but they’re more cautious with their cash than in previous years.
  2. Shopping is more social than ever. For teens, buying has always been just a part of the shopping puzzle. From mall crawls to vintage store scavenger hunts, teens have always approached shopping as a social scene. Today’s teens continue to see shopping as social – noting that their friends influence their purchases more than most other sources. But today’s teens have other ways to make shopping social. They can share potential picks via Facebook, and they can text their friends with advice on what to try-on. But one word of caution – social networks play a more limited role in shopping than we might think, even among today’s networked teens. They rarely “like” brands, and while they may look for deals on social networks, they’re unlikely to put products ahead of gossip when prioritizing their online time.
  3. Online shopping helps teens browse, then buy.  Many retailers measure the success of their ecommerce sites buy the amount of items in the shopping cart. This might be a bad move if your customer is a 14 to 18 year old! While our YouthBeat data shows that over half have shopped online in the past month, they’re more likely to be browsing than buying. Between not having the means (i.e., an accessible credit card or gift card) and preferring the experiential aspects of shopping, teens are more likely to use retailer websites to comparison shop, and to pre-select items from among their favorite stores. They also look for customer reviews to help them sort through what really fits, what works, and what’s worth a dip into their savings. If they can find the right product, without spending a lot on shipping, they may be willing to ask mom or dad for their account number. But for the most part, retailers should focus on making websites fun and functional for teen browsing. As a bonus, build in sharing features that let them turn virtual  “window” shopping into a chance to spread the word to their friends.
  4. The ideal shopping experience entertains and informs. Because shopping is often a form of entertainment for teens, make sure your retail environments are up to snuff. Provide well-stocked shelves that allow for a constant refreshing of inventory. Teens love to visit stores to see what’s new – and if you’re not offering them something new, they’re less likely to stop by for a visit. Teens’ ultimate shopping experiences let them touch and feel the merchandise without feeling like they’re being watched. Walmart learned this lesson, letting teens play games in store, making them an likely favorite among teens’ list of top shops. Finally, great shopping environments give teens a chance to participate, so provide low-cost items that allow everyone to walk away with something when they’re shopping en masse.
  5. Fast fashion and instant gratification trumps the need for luxury. From Forever 21 to Target, today’s teens are willing to sacrifice a luxury brand for fashion that they can afford. Cheaper fashion items not only get them in the game, but they make them feel less guilty when they’re ready to update their looks (which even less trend-savvy teens do on a regular basis). In contrast to a few years ago, when teens were carrying expensive purses and donning pricey athletic shoes, today’s teens are willing to go a bit lower if it means making their money stretch further. And this applies to technology as well – teens sometimes get overwhelmed by too many features, so make sure you make the shopping process simple. When teens feel smart, they extend that halo to your brand (i.e., if they feel smart, you look smart).

So what’s a teen retailer to do?

  1. Give them options as a range of price points – and always help them feel like they got a great price.
  2. Focus on making the shopping experience social, but only use social networks when it makes sense.
  3. Use websites as tools for research, but also as ways to tempt teens into your store, where the sale will really happen.
  4. Put the goods in their hands…Let them touch and feel and always make them comfortable when they’re browsing.

Give them items that don’t require intense investment, and provide them with opportunities to experiment with their look and their style when they’re in store.