Teenage Retail Market Update

This is a follow up to my 3/10/09 and 4/24/09 posts on this subject.

Same store sales in November 2009 reported by retailers specializing in clothing and accessories for teenagers showed a 7.8% yr2yr decline, making it the worst performing retail sector.

Even Hot Topic, a former high flier, had a double digit drop, while Abercrombie & Fitch had its 19th straight month of reduced sales revenues.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the current teenage unemployment rate at 26%.
With fewer jobs and mommy and daddy being more careful with their dollars, teenagers have a lot less money to spend.

See the article by Stephanie Rosenbaum, “Recession? Teenagers Get It and Are Cutting Back” on NYTIMES.com, December 26, 2009.

More On Retailing To Teenagers

There was an interesting article by Eric Wilson in yesterday’s New York Times about retailers who target teenage shoppers. The full citation can be found at the end of this post.

Wilson notes that a recent study by the investment bank Piper Jaffray reported a 14% decline in spending by teenagers that was a “direct reflection of the economy.” Cost has become a much more important factor in teenager purchasing decisions.

Most importantly, Wilson notes that “as teenagers’ priorities rapidly shift away from brands they now perceive as too expensive, the pecking order of mall stores has changed.” Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, has held its prices during the current recession and consequently has had a significant decline in sales.

But, price is not everything., Hot Topic has increased its sales steadily during the recession largely because it sells licensed products tied to the “Twilight” vampire series. According to Betsy McLaughlin, the chain’s CEO: “There’s just so much retail out there. I think the people who will win are the ones who provide something different. It’s not just a price war.”

See: Eric Wilson, “Losing Its Cool at the Mall,” The New York Times, April 23, 2009, sec. Fashion & Style, Article.


Recession Evils: Rumors and Facile Solutions

In a recent newsletter of Red Bank’s RiverCenter, Nancy Adams properly admonished the rumor-mongers who, faster than the recession, can bring down a good business operation. I congratulate Nancy for her spunk. And in contrast to Lou Grant, a lot of us like spunk! I am so glad she told those idiots to shut up!

Let me take up a cudgel against an equal danger – the town leader, manager or guru who thinks they are on to an easy answer for coping with our Great Recession. For instance, since November I have been hearing on and off about how good the student market is for retailers. This flies directly against what I have leaned about student shoppers since I started to study them for a project in Elizabeth, NJ back in the late 1990s. Before the dot,com bubble burst, the teen/tween market was an important growth engine for many downtowns – especially in urban wear. But with the dot.com bust, these youths lost their biggest income – what mom and dad gave them. And a lot of shops that targeted this market were badly hurt. Also, this market is notoriously fickle – a shop or chain that is red hot today can be in the crapper tomorrow. Finally, the potential size of this market is limited – the amount that teens and tweens can spend simply pales in comparison to how much retail spending their mothers control!

Then, if you look closely at what is happening today, you have to wonder some more. You can bet your bottom dollar that as this recession deepens, these kids are going to get less and less from their parents. And do you really think these kids are now getting part-time jobs to cover their retail buying habits? Moreover, if you look at some recent data, the story is a mixed one; some retail chains that target the teen/tween market are doing really well, but others, many that were hugely popular with these young shoppers, are not.

Below are some same store sales comparisons for retail chains that like teen/tween customers. The data are from Barbara Farfan at About.com:

Same Store Sales –Dec 2008

+13.5% The Buckle, Inc.
+ 12% Aeropostale
+ 10% GameStop
+ 4.3% Hot Topic Inc.

– 1% Urban Outfitters
– 10% Pacific Sunwear
– 12.3% Zumiez
– 12.5% Wet Seal
– 17% American Eagle Outfitters
– 24% Abercrombie & Fitch

Same Store Sales –Jan 2009

+ 14.7% The Buckle Inc.
+ 11.0% Aeropostale
+ 6.0% Hot Topic
+ 2.0% American Apparel

– 11.0% Pacific Sunwear of California
– 14.8% Zumiez
– 20.0% Abercrombie & Fitch
– 22.0% American Eagle Outfitters

Same Store Sales –Feb 2009

+ 21.0% Buckle, Inc.
+ 11.0% Aeropostale
+ 10.8% Hot Topic
+ 4.8% Torrid (Hot Topic)
+ 3.0% Urban Outfitters

– 6.6% Wet Seal
– 9.0% American Apparel
– 13.0% Zumiez
– 23.9% Arden B (Wet Seal)
– 30.0% Abercrombie & Fitch

The Buckle, Hot Topic and Aeropostale are indeed doing well and it would be great to discern a winning formula they share. Hot Topic is hot because it sells the clothing that the vampires or zombies wear in some book series that tween and teen girls now adore. Gamestop is hot because it resells computer games to the avid gamesters. But, Ambercrombie’s, Amercian Eagle, Zumiez, Wet Seal and Pacific Sunwear are not flourishing. And Amercian Apparel and Urban Outfitters – some retail analysts thought they were immune to this recession – are up and down. This market segment still does not sound to me like a rock downtowns now can build their retail upon.