With an estimated spending power of $200 billion, tweens are influencing household decisions and reshaping much of retail. How a generation that grew up on Instagram and smartphones is influencing fashion and even food cycles, and how to get into their heads.

Few words should matter as much to retailers today as this one: bra.

This single piece of clothing is one of the most thought-about items for what are likely the most influential shoppers today: tweens, and in particular, tween girls. This generation, defined as kids between 9 and 13 years old, has an estimated spending power of $200 billion, according to one 2013 study. However, to capture this critically important consumer group, retailers need to get into their collective heads and understand what is rocking their world right now.

True, there is more on their minds than undergarments. Tweens grew up on smartphones, seasonal Frappuccinos and Instagram – all experiential attractions that contribute to accelerating fashion and shopping tends. Combine that with their potential spending power and this generation is going to reshape retail in every category, from bras to lip balm to baked goods.

In short, whether the retailer is Justice or Trader Joe’s, its standing among tweens today could determine its income statements in coming years.

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Let’s not forget that many of the products that become relevant to tweens today are products they will purchase for decades. For this reason alone, tweens should be an essential chapter in the retail playbook. Retailers must continuously adjust their strategies to fit in with the next generation of working consumers.

Following are five crucial ways in which teens are reshaping retail.

Smartphones are the new plaid: Retailers compete with smartphones. Period. Mobile devices account for 41 percent of all screen time for tweens, and experiencing their formative years through the lenses of Instagram and Snapchat (meaning their smartphones) means developing appetites for fast-turning, tailored engagement that also is shareable. Merchants are striving to be more relevant in this capacity of sharing experiences among younger consumers. Macy’s One Below concept in Manhattan, for example, offers young female consumers a hair blowout bar, 3-D printed accessories and smartphone charging stations. It targets 13 to 22 year olds, but these services could easily be extended to aspirational tweens through limited events, such as parties.


The mall is soooo 2007: Thank digital devices for this shift. Malls can be big and clunky, but a few interactive screens or virtual retail experiences could capture young imaginations without blowing the balance sheet. Consider this harbinger: Mall traffic by teen visitors declined by 30 percent from 2004 to 2014, according to the spring 2014 report “Taking Stock with Teens,” by Piper Jaffray Cos. The more than 7,500 respondents averaged 29 annual visits to the mall, down from 38 in 2007. The upshot: If retailers fail to connect with tweens via digital experiences, then they are missing out in sales.

They are of two markets: Tweens, particularly female tweens, have strong opinions about what they wear. However, they usually shop with their moms, who must approve the purchases. To win them both, retailers strive to carry products that nail what I’ll call modest maturity – a mix of youthful relevance and age-appropriate practicality. Simple rule of thumb: Do not offend the parent. Anyone who has experienced the wince-inducing sight of her 12-year-old daughter donning platforms for the first time understands this balance. Perhaps this is why Nike ranks as the No. 1 preferred clothing brand among teens, who likely were indoctrinated as tweens – it can hold that balance.

They are brand-agnostic: Tweens, particularly tween girls, are at the age when they begin to establish their own sense of style, which is influenced by social media and the Internet. At the same time, they are establishing a young lifestyle and want to make their own looks to reflect it. This means they are more likely going to be interested in what is on trend and is relevant to their idols than the name on the label. This could be hazardous to specialty chains, but if a key personality (Taylor Swift, Kendall K.) is wearing it or eating it, then it is a safe bet that tweens will want it, too.

They don’t like seams – for anyone: At a time when we can pre-order our café Americano by app, the need for speed should not be surprising. Adults do help set such expectations, but tweens tend to be more empathetic than their harried parents, noting ways in which the retail experience can be seamless for their peers as well as themselves. A recent study by the British department store John Lewis, for example, revealed that tweens would like to see more efficient discounting as well as language translation assistance, the latter to help global visitors.

Regardless of what market group a retailer is after, it is essential that it recognize how its members think and behave and then adapt its merchandising and marketing approaches to capture their attention. Tweens are no different than other market segments, but the way they see and experience the world is different. Recognizing that purchases they make today may influence the bonds they form with brands for many years to come is not the meaningful insight. Rather, understanding that their approach to shopping could be on the forefront of what consumerism may be in the future – that should change the way retailers head off the challenge.

From a marketing standpoint, this means inviting tweens to share their collective voice and to analyze shopper data not only for key trends, but also for what is missing. What can be learned from the items shoppers are not buying, or from the hours they are no longer visiting?

It can be surprising what the actions of a 10-year-old mean to consumerism, but it is practical knowledge for an ever-evolving industry such as retail.

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