Speaker: Web Is 'Youth Medium of Choice'

NEW YORK — The National Retail Federation's opened its annual summit yesterday with a reminder to retailer attendees that teen-agers are doing more than just chatting, entertaining or listening to music online.

Quoting a Teenage Research Unlimited spring study, Teen People Trendspotters manager Tristan Coopersmith said 42 percent of teens online have bought over the Internet.

“This is a wired generation,” she said. “The Internet has become the youth medium of choice.”

As evidence, Coopersmith trotted out six people ages 15-19 on Teen People magazine's Trendspotters panel. Each validated her points. They liked buying online from sites with accurate search ability, sticky features like music and low or no shipping and handling charges. The teens also expected the e-commerce sites to reflect the brand personality of the retailer's stores, catalog and advertising.

Coopersmith said she expects the online trend to accelerate as more of the nation's 35 million teens gravitate toward the Web. A Jupiter Research study last year claimed 73 percent of teens are online. By 2007, it said, 86 percent will be.

Though Coopersmith did not offer online numbers, she cited Teenage Research data that showed teens last year were responsible for $170 billion in spending. That is 30 percent of overall national consumer spending, according to the South Florida Sentinel newspaper.

Teen retailing itself was a $70 billion business in 2002. Currently, 10,000 stores are aimed at the young demographic, up from 4,000 in 1995. Favorite retailers include American Eagle Outfitters, Old Navy, Wal-Mart, Target, JCPenney, Hot Topic, PacSun, Hollister, Limited Too and Sears — almost the same set that is popular online, Teenage Research said.

As things stand, the average teen/young adult spends 2.4 hours a day online, excluding e-mail use, according to Harris Interactive and Teenage Research. And teen girls are more active online than boys, Jupiter found.

Coopersmith told retailers at the show that teens buy more than just clothes.

An MRI Teenmark study of 2002 found 36 percent of the surveyed audience bought clothes online, 23 percent CDs, 20 percent books, 19 percent shoes, 17 percent event tickets and DVDs each and 15 percent video games. That study said 14 percent bought sports equipment and electronics online and 11 percent plane tickets.

Surprisingly, major mainstream brands got a chunk not only of their time but also money. Popular Web sites included Delia's, Yahoo, Old Navy, eBay, American Eagle, Amazon and Abercrombie & Fitch, according to Teenage Research.

With the current environment full of deceit, rife with corporate scandals and television shows like “Joe Millionaire,” Coopersmith said, it is critical to earn teens' respect and “maintain and keep their trust for decades.”

Retailers at the event were advised to build brand loyalty. Teens should interact with the brand and glean experiences that make time spent on the site worthwhile. Coca-Cola Co.'s site was commended for its approach. Teens on that site can manage their new songs and mix feeds.

“Think of your brand as human with a soul,” she said. “Go right to the source and find what they want.”

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