E-tailers Could Alter Marketing a Teens-y Bit

E-commerce is suffering from a severe case of nearsightedness.

As a result of their strenuous efforts to survive in a volatile economy, e-tailers are only able to see what’s right in front of them. It’s not easy being the novelty act when even the headliners are in a slump.

There is, however, a price to pay for being stuck in the present — and it might be paid 10 years from now. Think about the Internet vendors that make it through the protracted and painful dot-com shakeout. How will they thrive in the long term unless they cultivate the emerging consumer base?

The emerging consumer base — that’s a fancy term for teenage shoppers.

Extreme Surfers

These days, teenagers have considerable disposable income, which they are spending at the local mall. As a result, teens are still considered a fringe group by e-tailers. But are they really?

With malls having become the social gathering house for teens, it might be surprising to think that young people stay home and surf e-tail sites — but they do.

Most teens have no access to credit cards, so buying online is next to impossible, or so the naysayers say. Nevertheless, kids are finding ways to spend on the Net, even if their tastes limit them to the CD checkout lane.

In fact, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, teens are more adventurous surfers than their adult counterparts. They use instant messaging far more than adults. Moreover, those who do use the Internet regularly keep up with news and sports almost exclusively online, and not surprisingly, love to download music.

Play to the Crowd

Additionally, Cyber Dialogue recently reported that nearly three-quarters of U.S. teens sign on to the Internet every month, compared to 42 percent of adults.

In other words, the next constituency for e-commerce is already online, even if e-tailers are not actively marketing to them. So, isn’t it time that e-tailers start paying more attention to the next generation of e-shoppers?

Admittedly, we’re talking about tough territory for e-tailers whose resources must be tightly managed, whose venture capital is nothing but a footnote in the e-commerce history book, and who need to rack up stronger numbers just to stay afloat. It’s hard to worry about the future when the present is so challenging.

Spending money to market to an audience that does not have much current buying power does not have immediate appeal to e-tailers — or their boards of directors. Even so, however, it might be time for e-commerce to take a page from the playbook of other media organizations.

Time to Breakdown

Consider television. TV networks discovered that teens tune in at specific times. For example, summer days are big for the teen audience. Even the daytime soap operas alter their story lines and feature younger actors more prominently when school is out. So summer viewers are more likely to see commercials for acne medicine than arthritis relief.

Then there is radio, which for advertising purposes has always been divided into day parts. The highest priced ad spots are those in morning and afternoon drive times, when commuters comprise the captive audience.

E-tailers could easily follow suit, abandoning their one-for-all method of marketing and starting a strategy that is tailored to particular age groups. If teens are signed on to the Internet after school, or after dinner, it would seem e-tailers might want to take advantage of the opportunity to reach the younger market when they can.

Once and Future

Yes, reaching the youth market is an endeavor that will require spending current dollars to generate future capital. Yet investing in future audience may be as important as closing the sale with current spenders. Spend money now to make money later.

Some of that money must be spent on design. Teens are not likely to linger over heavy content sites, opting more often for cleanly designed pages that afford some sort of instant gratification, according to Datamonitor.

You only have to take a look a high school and college textbooks these days to understand the need for compelling graphics, color and stylized design.

Mars and Venus

Further, Datamonitor reports differences in gender preferences. Girls like online communities, while boys appear to enjoy entertainment. That tells us companies marketing to teen girls might do well to have online demonstrations, discussion groups and chat rooms, while sites appealing to boys would do well to feature high-action streaming video.

The beauty of marketing the Internet to teens may be in the details, and in an almost scientific approach to discovering when and where to focus on the youth market.

As for the “where” part of that process, the mall is a good starting point. If we cannot get teens to come to e-commerce, why not bring e-commerce to them? Kiosks, in-store Internet tie-ins and multi-channel marketing ploys may do the trick.

But the time to create a need among adolescents for online shopping is now, just before that all-important symbol of freedom — the first credit card — arrives in the mail.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • In the UK there are a handful of start-ups and banks that are targeting the 11-18 age group with online payment mechanisms. Looking at the US only RocketCash seems to have survived – any comments?


  • You described my 15-year old teenager perfectly. Uses instant messaging constantly, every spare minute of her day and night; regularly keeps up with news and sports by subscribing to ezines; buys cds online; LOVES to download music; she finds a way to spend on the net by asking me for my credit card when she finds something she wants. Her daily routine is checking her email when she gets home from school.

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