Retailers know texting is the
totally best way to reach teens
St. Petersburg Times
Retailers e-mailing you alerts
of deals and new products is old news. But now some
apparel chains are text messaging sale alerts, fashion
tips and sweepstakes giveaways to a generation of teens
who communicate — often intensively — by cell phone.
"I try to be careful giving my number out," said Kelsy
Kappel, a Madeira Beach Middle School student whose
personal record is 500 text messages in two days. "But
if they text me 25 percent coupons for the Rave, I'm
So far, the preteen fashion hub Rave is not marketing
via text message. But JCPenney, surfer/skate shop
Tilly's and Beall's department stores all text-messaged
sale alerts and offered downloadable ring tones and cell
phone games as part of their back-to-school promotions
this year. And www.nearbynow.com will text-message
shoppers the results of product searches and put items
on hold in stores at Westfield malls in Brandon, Citrus
Park and Countryside.
"You're going to see a lot more chains get into this,"
said Cynthia Cohen, a Coral Gables marketing consultant
who tracks teen trends. "To today's kids, texting is
what the telephone was to the baby boom."
Why the rush to cater to two-thumb typists? Access.
"Teens don't watch much TV and they don't read the
papers," said Kate Parkhouse, spokeswoman for JCPenney.
"So we're fishing where the fish are. We see the
Internet moving to the cell phone and we want to be
Indeed, Penney's initial ads promoting the service were
seen only in theaters where teens gather for summer
At Beall's there were glitches. An area code typo irked
a cell phone owner in another state. A parent objected
to her daughter getting messages that inflate her phone
bill. But 5,000 teens who signed up since March get
periodic messages, including one good for an extra $5
discount to those who wave their phone to cashiers.
"Only three opted out," said Gwen Bennett, Beall's
advertising vice president. "People who sign up want the
Most www.nearbynow.com shoppers are women in their 40s.
"They learned to text to keep up with their children,"
said spokeswoman Pamela Herman.
To many teens, e-mail is how their parents or older
"Text messaging is my life," said Kaity Warren, a
Columbus, Ohio, high school senior vacationing in St.
Petersburg who gets about 700 messages a month from
friends and relatives. "I'd share my number with a store
if it was the right store."
That's why text messaging is not a way to prospect for
new customers, only an inexpensive way to cement
relationships with shoppers already in the tent. Stores
walk a fine line between relevant content and being
labeled lame by picky teens.
"I got text messages from Seventeen magazine, but
canceled the first month," said Christina Lean, a
Seminole High student. "It just didn't interest me."
A trend for all ages
Teens are targeted at a time when marketers are flocking
to exploit the popularity of text messaging across all
Campbell Soup Co. introduced V8 Fusion fruit juice by
advertising a text message number to call for a sample.
Delta Air Lines will text flight information. Many Tampa
Bay area pizza stores text coupons.
"You'll see a lot more wireless mobile commerce in
2009," said Barry Diller, chief executive officer of IAC/InterActiveCorp,
which owns www.collegehumor.com, Match.com and
www.shoebuy.com. "Each of our 35 companies is gearing up
a mobile application."
So far, however, the trend among teen chains is
different than the spread of e-mail, which deteriorated
into annoying invasions of spam.
Early adopter stores require shoppers to volunteer a
phone number, but some don't keep it, or delete it
within a month. They don't dispatch more than three or
four messages a month. Customers can opt out at any
To avoid marketing restrictions on minors, none of the
stores interviewed will execute a purchase transaction,
and they regard text messages as advertising.
The Children's Online Protection Act forbids Internet
marketing to children under 13. But it does not apply to
wireless cell phones. That's the big reason teen
retailers are walking on eggs.
"If customers decide you're spamming them even once too
often, they won't just get angry; they will smash their
cell phone into little pieces and you'll lose them as a
customer forever," Andy Nulman, president of Airborne
Mobile, a Montreal text message ad agency, told a group
of retail executives eager to learn about the emerging
To activists who see all teen advertising as a way to
stimulate wanton consumerism that contributes to eating
disorders and negative body image, text ads are just
another way marketers bypass parents to insinuate
themselves into children's lives.
"This miniaturization of technology exposes children to
unwanted commercial messages faster than society can
react to slow them down," said Susan Linn, author of
Consuming Kids and director of the Campaign for
Commercial Free Childhood in Boston. "The government
response is 'Just say no.' "
Experts see more to come.
Malls are weighing GPS technology that alerts stores
each time a mobile club member enters the mall so offers
can be dispatched to their phones.
In Japan, stores post a bar code sign in the window that
can be picture-phoned for a readout of deals inside.
Just around the corner: text services that use a bar
code to assemble price comparisons with rival stores.
Such advances have split retail executives. Some are
happy that cell phone reception inside their stores is
poor. Others are buying antennae to boost mobile
reception to stay competitive.
"Only 35 percent of cell users ever sent a text
message," said David Polinchock, chief executive of the
Brand Experience Lab in New York that tests store
technology (and who confessed to 937 messages stacked up
on his cell phone). "This is just beginning."
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