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Teens: Recessions Are For Grown-Ups

Sarah Mahoney
February 27, 2009

While most of America is shopping less these days, a new study finds that there's no sign of a slowdown among mall-loving teens. It finds they're still spending plenty of time sashaying through their favorite stores.

Arbitron conducted the study for Eye, a mall media operator, intercepting teens between the ages of 14 and 17 in five malls around the U.S. Although the study was fielded in mid-November, a period when malls and retailers were reporting widespread downturns in both traffic and spending, these teens said they are still coming to the mall an average of five times a month, spending about two hours each trip, and visiting an average of five stores.

And teens say they were spending about $150 per month on their mall sojourns, with about half the cash coming from their own earnings, and the other half from the Bank of Mom and Dad. "With all the doom and gloom that's going on, we were surprised by how much money they had," says Olga Jourova, an analyst at Arbitron. Teens reported their average weekly income at $75, including allowance.

That surprising resilience in spending probably stems from the very real role malls play in kids' social lives, adds Michelle Schiano, Eye's VP/marketing. Only 14% say they usually go to the mall alone, while 27% say they usually shop with at least four people or more. Adults are seldom part of the equation; only 17% of the teens say they usually shop with the 'rents.

"For kids, it's very much a social experience," she says. "Even if they say they're going mainly to hang out, they do buy things, as well." Nearly 80% of teens who say they came to the mall to see friends end up making a purchase. Clothing is by far the most common item, with 88% planning a clothing purchase in the next three months, followed by footwear (73%), beverages (62%), and CDs or DVDs (48%.)

For retailers, keeping up with fickle teens has never been easy, but the softness of the past year has intensified the competition. High-end brands like Abercrombie & Fitch have reported steep sales declines while the Buckle has been going gangbusters. American Eagle Outfitters is down, and Aeropostale is up.

Schiano says she was also impressed by how much teens enjoy shopping, reporting that it makes them feel happy, carefree, and even inspired.

Also remarkable was how these mall-lovers view themselves as trendsetters. "We knew they'd be early adopters, but we were surprised at the rate at which these mall-going kids experiment with new things," says Jourova. "When compared to the average teen, these teens are more than twice as likely to buy or try new products or services either first or before most of their peers."

For example, one of the most popular activities is taking a photo or a video of a shopping item with cell phones, so they can discuss the item with friends. And more than one third say they are interested in receiving marketing messages on their cell phones, while 17% have responded to such an ad, and 7% have used text coupons.





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