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Keeping Up With The Kids: Today’s Teen Market Opportunity

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In her second piece for 2019, frequent contributor Elizabeth Shobert shares her advice on tackling Generation Z. Elizabeth is Director of Marketing & Digital Strategy at StyleSage – an intelligence business, founded on the idea and mission that we can all do better, and that technology has the power to enable smarter decision-making.

When it comes to keeping up with teens and what they want and like, it can seem like the most valuable skill is that of reading minds. But it turns out that in the business of catering to their shopping needs, being quick on your feet is a close second to anticipating their quickly shifting preferences. Recent research has shed light on the ways in which Gen Z think about what, how, and when they want to buy things. It’s pretty enlightening stuff, and some of the highlights included the following:

They have money to spend. Piper Jaffrey’s semi-annual survey showed that US teens spend an average of $2,600 a year. But spending on stuff like clothes is definitely competing with the spending on experiences like dining, so making a meaningful case for why your products deserve a cut of that spend is key.

They’re online A LOT. 74 percent of Gen Zer’s spend five hours or more every day online. But their attention spans, well, they’re pretty short, with some data suggesting that it averages just four seconds (that’s down from previous estimates of a whopping eight seconds). Getting the point across, in so few words, has never been more challenging.

They do their homework. Think that contradicts the existence of their short attention spans? Not so much, as 46% of Gen Zers said that they research items on their mobile devices before making a purchase. When they’re spending money (especially their own), it’s a considered purchase, so it’s all about communicating the relevant information in a mobile-friendly, easily digestible way. (Pictures and video go a long way here.)

Online and offline stores are both important. While the Piper Jaffrey survey showed a growing amount of time spent shopping online-only stores (nearly 25% of total time for upper income teens), there’s indication that a lot of that is due to convenience (the Amazon effect) and the desirability of the products themselves driving this shift. Case in point? On- and off-line experience driven retail brands like Nike and Lululemon found themselves at the top of the “popular kids” list.

So with these insights shedding some light into the minds of today’s teens, what’s a retailer to do when it comes to making and promoting stuff that teens will actually want to buy? We’ve got a few tips to make you more relevant to those teen spenders.

Co-Creation Gets Buy-In

If you want to know what teens want, why not just involve them in the process from the get-go? It’s not a radical idea, and research from Edelman found that 4 in 10 millennials want brands to let them be involved in the creation of new products. You could argue that this desire is likely even higher amongst digitally native Gen Zer’s who have grown up being able to directly engage with brands through social media. What’s more, it’s been shown that companies who involve customers in the product development and marketing process end up with more satisfied customers. So why aren’t more companies engaging with teen shoppers beyond focus groups and surveys? Perhaps it’s legacy organizational thinking, the cost, or even the fear of losing control, but the result is that a brand may miss important product and messaging opportunities that could hit the right notes with teen shoppers. There’s a reason that companies like Glossier found themselves in the top rankings in Piper Jaffrey’s teen research – they develop products with and messaging directly from their customers.

Discovery on the Move

With smart phone ownership amongst teens reaching record levels, it’s important that the discovery and purchase process is made for teens on the go. Where are teens discovering and interacting with brands? On Instagram, of course, as nearly 70% of teens surveyed said they preferred to interact with a brand there. Take it from this teen interviewed in a Washington Post article when she stated, “If I see something I like on social media or YouTube, I’ll screenshot it or write it down so later on I can go back and look at the things I want.” What’s more, through Instagram you can share things on that wishlist directly with friends and make it a more socially-approved and interactive purchase. With Instagram piloting in-app shopping and checkout, the gap between discovery and purchase is narrowing and it follows that teens will likely be some of the earliest adopters of this feature.

Aside from Instagram, retailer apps are important to personalizing the shopping experience for teens. Whether it’s push notifications or personal feeds of recommended products, apps are a natural channel to connect to the teen shopper. An important and increasingly common app feature is visual search, one that brands like Urban Outfitters and ASOS have deployed, so that mobile-savvy shoppers can take a photo and find something similar on their site. When commerce is a social, interactive, and constantly refreshed experience, you’re maximizing your chances that teens will get and stay on board.

Cause and Personal Relevance

All of us who view our teen years through the rear-view mirror can recognize how much technology has changed the realities of our day-to-day lives, and we can further appreciate the differences between ourselves and a younger generation who only knows a world where mobile phones and social media existed. And with those changes impacting how we all interact with each other, the pressures and worries of a teen indeed look a bit different than those of previous generations. In the Piper Jaffrey survey, more than 90% cited a political or social cause that was important to them. Whether or not those issues may seem on the surface far removed from the business of selling clothes or makeup to teens, recognizing and appreciating that these causes are deeply important to teens is actually quite important to the future success of retailers today. In a place like Instagram or Facebook, where moments of day-to-day life and world news are served up next to ads for your products, a company that can connect itself to the realities of being a teen, whether that’s an issue like body acceptance or bullying, stands to be more than just a place to buy products but a brand that gets the unique challenges of being a teen today.

What’s more, authenticity is of utmost importance to teens, as they can smell pandering and fake in a single scroll or swipe. Three-quarters of teens said they preferred advertising that featured real people, and intimates brand Aerie (sister brand of American Eagle) has tapped into that desire with its #AerieReal campaign featuring body positive and accepting messages and untouched photos of real women in their campaigns. The takeaway here? A good product and the right message helps teens to feel like that brand identifies with their needs, something that, more often than not, will prove to benefit both the end consumer and the brand’s bottom line.

Do teen shoppers have a unique profile and set of needs? Absolutely. But we’d argue that what they’re after isn’t necessarily that different from what shoppers of other generations crave: we all want convenience, a great product, and messaging that makes us feel good about ourselves.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.