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In a break with tradition, retailers are pitching their fall clothing lines to the folks who wear the pants (and skirts): teen-agers.

Marketers have long known teens cast an important vote in many purchasing decisions. But responding to recent studies that show a marked rise in teen-age spending power, many retailers this fall are focusing more media dollars and brand messages on this market.

Parents are expected to spend $311 per child on clothing this season. But growing in importance to retailers is the amount of money teens spend on themselves-$57 billion annually of their own money, according to Teenage Research Unlimited, Northbrook, Ill.

A new survey by retail consultancy Deloitte & Touche found 48% of what parents spend on their teen-ager's clothing annually goes for fall apparel. The average teen-ager makes three trips to the mall each month, spending roughly $41 on clothing per trip.

The size of the three-month back-to-school market is unknown. But it ranks just behind the holiday season, which represents about 30% of annual retail sales, according to consultancy Marx Layne & Co., Farmington Hills, Mich.

Studies on teen buying power have led Sears Merchandise Group to step up advertising in teen magazines, said Senior Exec VP-Marketing John Costello.

"That's one of the reasons we're running more ads in books like 'Teen and Seventeen," he said.

Seventeen has seen a surge in retail ad revenue, up 26% through November, said Janice Grossman, group publisher at K-III Communications Corp.

J.C. Penney & Co. has split its target audience into three groups this fall: teen-age men, teen-age women, and mothers buying for younger kids, said Beth Mack, management representative on the Penney business at Temerlin-McClain, Dallas.

To attract teens, stores need branded merchandise, particularly in denim and athletic shoes. The Deloitte & Touche survey found 97% of boys and 94% of girls said they prefer branded shoes and 89% of boys and 91% of girls said they prefer branded jeans. Mr. Costello said that while most of Sears' apparel business is half branded and half private label, almost all juniors merchandise is branded.

A survey conducted by Market Facts for Advertising Age supports the importance of brand names in apparel: 39.1% of consumers believe quality is the key factor in fall apparel purchases, followed by price, cited by 29.5% of respondents.

This message is not lost on discounters. Dayton-Hudson Corp.'s Target Stores is attempting to distinguish itself from Kmart Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores. Three 30-second spots from Martin/Williams, Minneapolis, feature the British percussion group Stomp performing in hallways while modeling various denim name brands.

"The campaign is trying to say Target is not only a smart place to shop but also a cool place to shop," said Tom Weyl, president-chief creative officer at the agency.

Penney's added preprinted circulars to its August schedule this year and boosted electronic media spending 50% for the month to portray its Arizona brand jeans as a stylish purchase for teens.

"The spending increase has gone toward our new, brand-specific ads," said a company spokesman. "In the past, our advertising has focused on institutional store ads or special sales ads."

Mid-level department stores like Penney's, Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co. continue to compete neck and neck with mass merchandisers for back-to-school business.

The Market Facts survey showed that of respondents with children at home, 30.7% are shopping mostly at midlevel department stores for fall apparel, while 30.1% prefer mass merchandisers. The phone survey was conducted Aug. 19-21 of 1,000 adults in the continental U.S., and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

The survey also found that parents are increasing their fall apparel budgets much more this year than is the general population: 41% of respondents who have children said they plan to spend more on fall/back to school apparel this year, compared with 27% of respondents in general.

And those who are waiting for kids to clear out of the malls before doing their own shopping likely will have to wait longer than usual.

"The back-to-school season extends over a much longer time period than it has in the past," said Mr. Costello of Sears. "Schools have more staggered start dates, and many young people like to wait until they're back at school to see what everyone else is wearing."

Leah Rickard contributed to this story.

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