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Catering to the Teenage Customer

Ron Ehlers, formerly of Pacific Sunwear, talked about the importance...
U.S. teens wield more than $175 billion in spending power. ...

There are more than 32 million teens in the United States (and more than 40 million people aged 12 to 22) with more than $175 billion in spending power—and they have no qualms about spending most of it.

To entice these shoppers to spend their dollars, retailers should focus on how to engage their tech-savvy teenage customers, according to Ron Ehlers, former VP of information systems for Pacific Sunwear of California in the TOPSS session “Catering to the Teenage Customer.”

TOPSS is produced by Chain Store Age and Retail Technology Quarterly.

“Teens tend to be early adopters of new technology and they communicate primarily through texting and e-mail,” Ehlers said. “With that said, this is an important way to communicate with our customer base.”

Pacific Sunwear has been using its Web site to provide a primary source of information and another channel of distribution since 1999. But Ehlers suggested that retailers should take technology to the next level through mobile communication.

“The industry has noticed a change in the way our shoppers shop,” Ehlers said. “For example, sales of watches have dropped significantly over the past few years because many teens don’t wear watches anymore—they just look at the time on their cell phones. Phones are truly the connection to their world.”

To tap into this platform, Ehlers said companies should consider expanding mobile-marketing initiatives that enhance the in-store experience.

Ehlers suggested a concept that includes a workbench or handheld device that would be given to managers and sales associates. A Bluetooth signal on a customer’s phone would trigger the device when they walk in. The customer’s shopping profile would then be revealed to the salesperson, indicating, for example, that they spent over $500 on a specific brand last year at the store. This data flow takes direct marketing to the next level.

“A salesperson can approach the shopper and offer incentives specific to their needs, lifestyle and taste,” Ehlers said. “But since this is an extremely personal platform, you have to be careful not to turn them off.”

Companies can add a few more personal touches to the in-store shopping experience, as well. For example, customers could create an online playlist of their favorite songs by logging onto the retailer’s site. And when shoppers walk into a location, their mobile device would send another signal to push their songs to the top of the in-store playlist.

Retailers can also provide the opportunity for music-download impulse purchases, Ehlers said, adding that Starbucks is already offering a similar program.

“This allows customers to download what is currently being played in the store directly to their iTunes or iPhone,” he explained. “This is a 99¢ sale that keeps the customer engaged and keeps them coming back for more.”

© 2014