Retailers Targeting Teenagers: Why, How, And Examples of Success

Picture a corporate boardroom of an upcoming retailer in today’s economy. A presentation is on, depicting the latest research findings and subsequent strategies to position their product and regain the company’s dwindling sales. Words like “Gen-Y” and “Gen-Z” are frequently heard, and the presenter takes effort in explaining the newest mantra to capture these market segments. Yes, we are talking about teen marketing i.e, marketing that is targeting teenagers – the current panacea for boosting up the performance of all retailers – both big and small – and perhaps the fastest-growing segment of today’s global retail economy.

Teens Are Now Considered A Recession-Proof Segment

Once described as an idiosyncratic market segment with uncertain buying behaviour, today the teenagers are being actively pursued by retailers to boost up their sales and capture new markets. There is sound logic behind their decision, which is that even if the parent’s cut back spending on themselves, they will not compromise on the quality of life and facilities for their kids. The buying decision of the kids is unaffected by the news of economic recession. They possess higher disposable income, and unlike their parents, their discretionary buying behaviour is not affected by changes in the economic spending pattern and tax rises. This is especially true as we see more teens earning money online through websites like TikTok and vlogging on YouTube. 

An average teenager visits the malls and the department store, bringing their parents along with them occasionally. This may also lead to the parents buying for themselves at these malls.

However, the above hypothesis of the retailers to fall back on targeting teenagers and recover their decline in sales seems too simplistic, if it is not backed by a judicious marketing mix and a definite strategy. It is extremely important to reiterate that in this case the marketers are targeting the teenagers and should customize their positioning to that effect, considering the fact that grabbing a kid’s attention and maintaining it over a significant time period is indeed a challenging task.

The Repositioning of JCPenny

We have long known JCPenney as “My Mom’s Store”. However, to meet the challenge of targeting teenagers, JCPenney managed to revamp its teen merchandising portfolio and set up and introduced new brands into the market over the past years. 

This was followed by the redesigning of the teen departments in their stores. Faced with the tightening of its sales, JCPenney definitely found this as the right way for reaching out to a newer segment. Of course, many of its competitors followed suit. A newer competitor will be more acceptable as they don’t already have an established brand image (as a store for older generations) and thus may appear more acceptable to the teen shopper.

However, when one is thinking about repositioning the image of an old retail chain like JCPenney, a chain identified with the traditional shopgoers belonging to the middle and old age segment for so long, this definitely poses a challenge requiring extra effort and know-how. The chief message that this retail behemoth tries to convey is a clear and visible brand and look. 

Research shows that about 90% of grocery and apparel purchases are influenced by teens. They appear to the marketer as a segment possessing discretionary income with considerable impact on household budgets of their parents too. A teen buyer is therefore eagerly tracked, researched and targeted by the retailers as a very important market segment.

The Paradox of Department Stores

Big and traditional retailers like JCPenney are faced with an intriguing question. Their sales figures show that they enjoy a substantial market share when it comes to teen shoppers. They even rank as the numero uno among the mall-based stores where the teens shop. This may give an impression that their department stores are the only places where the teens like to shop. It may not be true, since specialty stores as Abercrombie & Fitch and Forever 21also have a huge teen following. Thus JCPenney needs to invoke such loyalty from the teens, not merely as a shopping destination where teens are either following their parents or where they just visit in absence of any similar destination – but as the place that offers the trendiest collections that are far better than the merchandise offered by their competitors. So it is very crucial for a retailer to create an emotional connection to their store and brands and begin targeting teenagers. A huge real estate structure that a department store is, may pose as a cold institutional structure that has no emotional connection whatsoever. This may drive away teens from such department stores, and make them look into other possible channels for their purchase. It can also be an offshoot of the normal teen psyche of negating all the associations and environment that their parents and adults would frequent. They may not like to accompany their parents and may rebel by purchasing from much trendier places. For example, a store, with a jazzy display and funky piped music is preferred by teenagers.

Dots, a well known young woman apparel store is also into redesigning its stores and provide fashion guidance-a la JCPenney. The use of snazzy graphics is to ensure an emotional connection with shoppers.

Even if the parents are more interested in purchasing from a traditional retail chain, their teenagers make it a point to accepting the merchandise, especially fashion garments, from stores whose name and aura they would like to associate themselves with. A parent thus frustrated, would not only stop buying from their traditional retailer but would soon follow their kid into the trendier one, who has successfully marketed to the teens. 

This is the power of youth, and it is for the retailer to spend sufficient time and energy to make a sound judgment on the methods to target the teens. Shakespeare may have said “what’s in a name” but in the case of retailers targeting the teenager, that is what it’s all about.

It is not that the marketers of retail chains like JCPenney are unaware of this fact. Fabulosity, designed by a well-known reality TV star is an apparel brand which is launched by JCPenney. This means that by stressing on its brands’ names, they are repositioning themselves in the midst of the new young segment. The company name is carefully camouflaged which makes true marketing sense. Not only that, the company is working on the environment within its malls. A better lighting and exciting display will ensure that the garments sold by them would be much more visually appealing to work for targeting teens. Different lifestyles will be the themes in these stores, and they will be carefully divided into different segments so as to enable the teen shopper to buy their choice. It will be as if that they are offering fashion advice to their prospective young buyer to get them hooked with the brand as a mark of their appreciation.

Understanding The Teen Psyche Is Important For Consumer Behavior Building Marketing Strategy

Understanding the psyche of the teen shopper is of utmost importance and a dynamic and sincere marketer should invest sufficient resources in this pursuit. As it is, the youth of today is perhaps the only segment who is not bothered about an impending tax cut or the latest news about the rate of inflation. Apart from their ability to spend freely, the other factors that form the basis of why this segment is so crucial to the marketers is as follows:

1. Today’s teens are much more in sync with the latest technology advancements. They use iPads and iPhones and tend to know the ins and outs of PCs and cell phones. They are experts at social media. 

2. The present teen is emotionally and socially closer to their family than before. The “rebel without a cause” attitude is a thing of the past. They spend sufficient time with their family and also like to be involved in the decisions concerning the family. Needless to say, this also means that these decisions also involve knowledge or information about the latest upcoming mall and the newest fashion garment brand.

3. They may appear to be inconsistent in their brand loyalty. This is true especially in the case of fashion brands where teens have a general distrust of media methods which is healthy because it is important for them to single out messages that are dubious and unauthentic. Teens have a short attention span but they are very receptive to simple messages which convey the true attributes of the brand. An average teenager is often multitasking, they watch TV, browse Instagram, while sending selfies to their friends on Snapchat etc., at the same time. Therefore, the challenge is to catch their attention and sustain it. This is only possible by creating a short, concise and unconfused communication that the marketer needs to convey. For example, in the case of online marketing or through social, one should desist from using excessive text, brochures and other readable material or too many clicks required for navigation. Otherwise, they will not be interested in the main message and would divert their attention to something far more interesting. Hence to create a social media campaign that is effective in reaching the target teen group, one needs to decide about the main message or offer and then use it as the headline of the communication instead of placing it as a conclusion. Additionally, care should be taken to make it as simple and straightforward as possible. Thus, they are an excellent and fast carrier of brand images, either good or bad. This method of promotion is called “viral marketing” which is the popular word for peer group promotion. The word about the superior features of the product spreads like a virus, and immediately promotes brand loyalty among teenagers. This is also complemented by the fact that any average teenager believes his friends the most. Marketers, therefore, spend hours on understanding the psychometric profile of this target segment as targeting teenagers is the best and most credible way of marketing the brand. 

Graphics heavy video and audio clips can be jazzy and fun, but they actually result in distracting the visitor who will move away from reading further into the main message after a brief time period. 

A dynamic and sincere marketer strives hard to get into this level of viral marketing, and once achieved, they thrive as their target teen segment turns into a brand ambassador and advocates it to all.

Trendy – A Qualitative Attribute

Being trendy is a relative measure of a brand’s attribute. Even the teenage segment can be subdivided, either in its entry age profile that is as a high school goer or someone entering college. Thus, the marketing message of the retailers should be customized for both of these segments separately. For example, the retailer of brightly coloured and patterned socks, loungewear and other apparel, LittleMissMatched, discovered the lack of retention of their customer base. They found that once the kid enters college, they would like to go for a less jazzy outfit. This is because they would not like to draw as much attention to their clothes or to themselves as they would have liked to when they were in high school. In fact, while in college it is okay to be viewed in less showy clothes that would make them be viewed as vain. They would like to be viewed seriously or in a sombre light while in college, and the brand they wear should try to promote that view.

The Power of the Web

Choosing the correct promotional strategy for creating a trendy and effective brand image is of prime importance for the retailers. The communication may be authentic and the store may have all the essential features to get a teen shopper to become interested in purchasing their stuff from the store. However, the moot question facing the marketer is, how to reach this segment that is seemingly indiscernible to many marketers.

Obviously, traditional media like newspapers and direct mailers are not the answer. Even the ubiquitous TV is also limited in reaching out to the teens. It is the Web, digital media (social media to be specific), that is the best method of targeting the teens that are the chosen market segment by retailers.

The Web continues to be the most preferred marketing medium for reaching out to teens. In fact, its importance is only going to rise with every passing day. Some companies excel in doing that. They target this segment because they readily adopt any new technology, having grown up with instant messaging and texting. They can also be called the online generation with money to spend. Mobile products, especially data plans, are therefore targeting this tech-savvy and very receptive segment. 

Another case in point is how Apple got the Gen-Y hooked on to the iPod. Apple has been careful in disseminating information to kids at the time. Their ads never loaded the teenager’s mind with excessive information. Apple conveys a simple marketing campaign and lets the press and fans do the rest. Even when several television channels like Fuse TV and other individuals parodied iPod ads, it only created an invincible stream of word-of-mouth marketing for Apple. It is also a well-known fact that there is no superior substitute for Word-of-Mouth marketing. If there is any channel of marketing that is almost foolproof and lends credence to the product, it is word-of-mouth marketing, which touches most of the social segments of the market and is valued by them over any traditional advertising medium.

Thus, there is no doubt that JCPenney’s strategy of re-furbishing their juniors departments by re-stocking them with the new brands along with promoting these brands by an aggressive advertisement campaign launched in back-to-school catalogues and a back-to-school microsite is working successfully. Such astute strategy enables them to directly reach the teenagers and also helps them to emotionally connect them to the store. JCPenney is also targeting their teen buyer through ads in movie halls, interactive Website features and mobile marketing. Many retailers engage themselves in creating communities on social networking platforms and user groups. These sites serve as excellent marketing tools promoting the brand round the clock. Retailers succeed in garnering a huge fan base that results in generous conversion to sales. User groups and Web communities in such sites as Instagram and Facebook abound with photo galleries of the teen customers wearing the stores’ clothing and fashion tips about the latest season’s clothing. Podcasts having interviews with designers and opinion leaders of the fashion world. Virtual dressing rooms are some of the very effective and new marketing tools that the retailers use via the Web through platforms like Youtube. The latest alerts and promo codes are sent via e-mails or Short Messaging Services (SMS), or social media notifications to the smartphones of the online fan base that is built by the consumers themselves. All the well-known retailers like American Eagle, Hollister, Target, Forever 21 and Abercrombie & Fitch boast Facebook and Instagram accounts with an expanding fan base. These networking sites have started as major discontinuities to the marketing media of the retailers and now they have been converted into major trends. Every retailer, worth its name is therefore doing whatever possible to jump into the social media bandwagon.

Product Launch Event Ideas Are Crucial Promotional Tools

Event marketing is also an important and integral part of the marketer’s promotional strategy while targeting teenagers. Some companies design their event-based marketing to be focused on intensively promoting their message on college and school campuses. They regularly contact many marketing associations within the universities and then build rapport with the students who are in those marketing associations. Once they get them to become users of their product, then they set up a booth inside the campus where T-shirts and other freebies are given out to promote their Website.


Finding the right channel or a mix of different channels, for promoting the sale to young consumers is easier said than done and requires continuous research in understanding their needs and then finding a method to be a part of it. In fact, some companies employ many youths, whose job profile is to travel and live in the youth environment. They, in turn, return with the real experience thereby ensuring regular feedback from customers. Thus, is it by showcasing as a company which directly and naturally appeals to the teens, or is it by sponsoring popular event belonging to the teenagers, or is it by acting as a facilitator for these young consumers in achieving their goals and aspirations? Or is it all of them? That is the moot question that the marketers targeting teenagers are facing and attempting to answer.

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