Apparently, you shop like your parents
Giulia Pugliese is a typical teenager. She likes to look good. And she is particular about what she wears.
But when The Associated Press followed the 15-year-old from Long Island on a back-to-school shopping trip with friends, she left a Nike store empty-handed. That was even though Nike is one of her favorites. What was the reason?
"I buy on sale because it is stupid to buy a pair of shorts for $60," said Pugliese. She looks for the "Swoosh" logo in discount stores like Marshalls.
Teens are shopping like their parents during the back-to-school season. That is putting a lot of pressure on retailers to change the way they market to them. Gone are the spending sprees that start weeks before school bells ring. More teens are thrifty nowadays. It is a habit picked up from their recession-scarred parents.
Today's kids recycle more clothes from the previous school year. Kids mix and match the old with the new for different looks. They also shop year-round for things they need. It means they are spending less money this time of year.
When they do buy, they are less likely to get anything that is not on sale. And the number of kids who will reuse last year's items rose to 39 percent from 26 percent between 2011 and 2015. So says a Deloitte LLP poll of 1,000 parents.
And when teens shop, they are spending less. Families with school-age kids are expected to spend an average of $630.36 this year. That is according to a survey of 6,500 by the National Retail Federation. That is down 6 percent from last year. The results have registered declines for four out of the past seven years.
Overall, back-to-school spending this year should hit $42.5 billion. That is up 2.1 percent from the previous year, according to The Retail Economist. It is a research firm. That is much lower than the 5 to 6 percent average gains typically seen in a healthy economy.
Teens' behavior is an extension of how their parents learned to shop since 2008. That was when retailers pushed discounts to entice people to buy during the downturn. It helped lure shoppers. But it also got them addicted to deals. The shift made it difficult for stores to make money because discounts cut into profits.
Such behavior has cut into sales from July through September. It is the second biggest shopping period of the year behind the winter holidays. Sales during that period were 24.9 percent of total sales annually last year. That is down from 25.8 percent in 2003, according to The Retail Economist.
"Consumers are sending a message to retailers that says 'the back-to-school shopping season just is not that important anymore,'" says Deloitte's Alison Paul.
The shift is changing how stores market to teens. Whereas stores' promotions would end around Labor Day, they are now extending them through September. They are also pulling together complete outfits from different brands in stores. It makes it easier for teens to buy looks. And they are using social media campaigns to be more easily discovered by teens.
To observe teens' new behavior, the AP followed Pugliese. With her were her cousin, Arianna Schaden, 14; and two friends, Isabella Cimato, 17, and Sofia Harrison, 15. The were at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, N.Y. Here are some ways teens are shopping differently, and how retailers are adjusting:
Teens are not impatient about shopping.
Although they started shopping weeks early, the four teens plan to delay buying things they do not need straightaway, like jeans, until well after school starts and the weather cools. In fact, they are planning to spend about half of their back-to-school budget of about $400 after school begins.
Cimato did not buy anything at all that day. Harrison, who bought just a few shirts, said: "To be honest, it is not that big of a deal because I shop year round."
Besides that, they want big discounts. During their shopping trip, Schaden found a $58 romper she liked. But she decided to leave the mall without it.
"I think I buy on sale because my mom never buys something unless it is on sale," she said.
Teens are not roaming around at the mall for kicks during back-to-school. They are researching the looks they want online and follow popular hashtags on social media so they can piece together looks before they get there. Google says its image searches for "school outfit" have grown dramatically during the past three years, and soared 76 percent in July.
Cimato researched denim tops and items with fringe on Instagram. She said: "I pretty much know what I am looking for."
That presents challenges for retailers that fear teens will bypass their stores because they are focused on items they already want to buy. Retailers are trying to get teens' attention before they are in stores.
Macy's, for instance, is identifying key trends and hashtags on social media that are getting lots of followers. It now highlights shoe trends using the popular hashtag FWIS. That stands for "from where I stand."
Teens no longer want to be carbon copies of each other. Now, kids are inspired by what they see on Instagram and the like. They want to personalize hot looks.
"I am not a big fan of logos," Harrison said. "That is distracting to my style."
That behavior makes it hard for retailers to dictate specific looks. That means retailers have to do more marketing to attract teens.
Penney's back-to-school ad campaign is called "Bend the Trend." It tries to show how easy it is to put together trends for a personalized style. And like many teen retailers, Hollister has scaled back its logoed clothing.
"Today, the customer is the center of everything we do," said Hollister president Fran Horowitz.