June 2, 2005, 12:00 AM

What Teens Want

(Page 2 of 2)

Macy’s youth site has only been in operation since early February. It began as part of test sponsored by Macy’s West operations three years ago when it was a brochureware site intended to get young women to shop at local Macy’s department stores. It was originally aimed only at women aged 15 to 22. “The site was well-received and we got good feedback. So we decided to take the site national and make it transactional,” Anderson says. “We’ll be adding a young men’s wear section in the fall and more content to appeal to the male customer.”

Not only are the graphics and typefaces at thisit.com more contemporary and hip than what you’d find at Macy’s.com, but thisit.com has additional content directed at the youth market. The site has an affiliation with Teen Vogue magazine and provides editorial content about fashion tips and makeovers.

“We think the teen customer is willing to spend more time looking around at our site. At Macy’s.com we are responding to the alpha shopper who wants to get in, find a specific product, buy it and leave,” says Anderson. “Thisit.com has a softer sales approach.” While thisit.com is transactional, it is not as much about selling on the spot as directing customers to shop at Macy’s in general.

Developing marketing

Because thisit.com is so new, Macy’s is still struggling with how to promote it. “We’ve used some banner ads at teen sites and were pleasantly surprised at the results, but we are sill fleshing out our marketing strategy. We’re now looking for new ways to promote this site. We know that the lessons we’ve learned at Macys.com won’t necessarily be transferable to thisit.com,” Anderson says.

Among some early lessons, the youth site is finding that e-mail promotions are effective with the teen market. Macy’s asks teen customers to provide e-mail addresses when they make purchases in the stores and most teens are willing to do so. That allows the retailer to send promotional messages directing the teens to the site. And e-mail isn’t all it’s looking at. “We’re trying to figure out how to take advantage of text messaging and video content to promote our site as well,” Anderson adds.

Macy’s is also looking to see if some type of blogging feature would be effective to allow young women to talk about fashion among themselves. As part of the effort to encourage teen communication, Macy’s is looking at appointing a team of “It” girls who could give fashion advice online. But Andersons says the “It” girls won’t be your typical model-type young women. “We want a cross section of teens represented, including diversity in sizes and shapes. We do a large plus-size business and we need to represent that market,” he explains.

Many observers like the idea of mainstream retailers taking a different approach to the youth market. “This audience is trend-driven and they want a softer sales approach than what their parents are looking for in a retail site,” says Carrie Johnson, analyst with Forrester Research. Besides Macy’s thisit.com, Johnson likes Crate & Barrel’s CB2 site because of the way it has compiled “hip products” that are likely to appeal to college students looking to decorate their dorm rooms and other young persons who are furnishing their first homes.

Simplicity is key

But while hip is good in selling to youth, so is simplicity, according to consultant Britton. “Sites have to be kept simple and devoid of clutter,” Britton says. “Teens have a short attention span and they want instant gratification. If they have to spend too much time at your site to get what they want, they’ll go elsewhere.”

For example, while Britton likes the idea of Macy’s setting up a separate page to appeal to youth, he is critical of the site itself in that he says thisit.com’s load times are too long and the design is cluttered.

While Britton says additional content can be helpful in attracting youth, too many added features can take away from the main purpose of selling product. “Cool games and content are okay, but only if they tie in with your brand or the products you’re trying to sell,” Britton says.

Still, comScore’s study of top retail sites showed the top sites typically offer promotional enticements, such as contests and giveaways, as well as provide chat rooms and other communication tools to encourage teen consumers to “make the brand a part of their everyday life,” according to Ostrowski.

Individualized sites

One good feature on youth sites is giving customers the ability to customize the web page, Britton adds. “Young people like to express themselves as individuals and they expect to do that when they go to a web site,” Britton says. And while retailers don’t want to overdo the advice, features that allow young customers to share their thoughts about the products being sold with others of similar age and interest are often effective, Britton says.

While selling is still the name of the game, experts warn that retailers need to be realistic about selling a lot of product directly off these web sites. Jupiter’s Card warns that particularly when selling to persons under 18, retailers’ sites might do better to promote their products that teens can buy in the retailers’ stores than try to get a lot of online sales. “Adults tend to shop online because they have time restraints. That is not a problem for teens,” he says. “Their issue is more cash restraints than time restraints. And it is harder for teens to buy online because they don’t usually have access to credit cards.”

Finally, Card adds, unlike many older adults who view the experience as a required necessity, teens actually like to shop in malls. “Retailers might be better to use the web to promote their products and try to get teens to remember their products the next time the teens hit the mall,” Card says.

But whether it is promoting store merchandise or selling directly online, most retailers going after the youth market realize that their offerings often need to be unique from what is directed to the older audience. Young people typically like offerings that are contemporary, provide them with useful or fun content and reflect that the retailer knows who it is trying to appeal to. l

Lauri Giesen is a Libertyville, Ill.-based freelance business writer.

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