Help Reel Teen Girls in Through Style

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Marketing to generation Y is a unique challenge for both the cataloger and the Internet retailer. It has a sizable customer base of 40 million American teen-agers that is growing by 10 percent annually, a rate nearly twice that of the general population. They spend nearly $200 billion annually, more than twice what teen-agers spent 10 years ago, and they spend twice as much time shopping as adults. They also influence some family purchases.


In the world of e-commerce, never has a group been more inclined to all things Internet. It is the first generation to grow up on the computer from preschool. More than 25 million are already online, and this number will probably double during the next two years.


The key to selling to them is to understand who they are. Let's deal with the teen girl in the fashion apparel category, in which many catalogers and Web sites already are doing business with varied levels of success.


Who is she? The generation Y girl is 10 to 22 years old. Though this is a wider age range than the strict definition of teen, it fits the actual customer base. Originally termed preteen, 10- to 12-year-old girls are now called "tweens." They are smaller than teen girls, but they want the same styles they see the older girls wearing in school, on television and in fashion magazines. They don't want to shop in the children's department anymore.


Catalogers and e-tailers can capitalize on this viable niche by starting their junior size range at 0 or 00 and offering size 1 as well or by duplicating their junior styles in girls sizes 7 to 14. This will give tweens the chance to look cool like their older sisters, but they will have things that are proportioned for their smaller frames.


These females, ages 13 to early 20s, also come in different shapes and sizes. The most traditionally bypassed is the junior-plus girl who, much like her plus-size counterpart in the women's market, has a problem finding the styles she wants in her size. Most junior departments carry sizes 3 to 13, or small to large. Many American teen girls need larger sizes, but they don't want to shop in the women's departments because the styles are more suited for their mothers or grandmothers. They want the same trendy things their friends are wearing. It is up to the merchant to satisfy this need by expanding the upper end of the size scale from 13 to 21 and adding XL, 2XL and 3XL.


If you feel up to the challenge, be sure your suppliers can hold up their end. There is no point in presenting the offer unless you can fulfill it in as timely a fashion as you do the rest of your business.


Now that we know what size these teens are, how do we get their attention long enough to sell to them? If you are a cataloger, make sure your cover does the job - best-selling styles on cute teen models, contest offers, token gift with first order, etc. Use the hooks that have been good for you in the past, but with a teen flair.


For e-tailers, tailor your content and community to their interests. Community interaction that appeals to teens includes free e-mail, chat rooms, auctions and message boards where they can post opinions and respond to surveys.


Content can be downloadof music and disc jockey mixes, video clips of the newest groups, personalized horoscopes, interviews with teen celebrities (including pictures) and contests with cool prizes.


Now that you have their attention, what will they buy? If you already have a set style and merchandise assortment that is working well in the teen market, you belong to a small and exclusive club. For the rest of you, here are a few style pointers.


Within the teen girl customer base, there are many styles. Each segment has its own following. To increase your market share, try adding different but related looks that might appeal to the teens you already have. If you sell gothic-style merchandise, try some rave or street-wear items. If your customers are buying classic or preppy looks, try some surf or skate styles. The way to win with teens is to come up with just the right assortment of merchandise that makes them feel that your style is their style. Once they are comfortable following your lead, the door is open for you to try new and different things.


They are more open to new ideas and innovations than the adult customer. They embrace change and are always looking for the next big thing. Help them find it and they will help you build a great business.
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