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Today’s kids are vocal about what they do and do not like — even if mom and dad control the wallet — and their spending habits are still a boon for retailers.
Jennifer Mazuelos, owner of two Austin, TX-area children's boutiques and online stores — Izzy and Ash, and Grō — says the majority of parents that visit her stores like to have their kids' approval before they make a purchase.
"Moms don't really pick anything out," Mazuelos says. "If mom does pick something out on her own, the piece could end up just staying in the closet. And they don't want to take that risk. When things happened with the economy back in 2008, people became more conscious of what they were spending their money on -- and things haven't changed drastically since then. Now, they'll buy but they want to know that their child will actually wear it."
The NPD Group reports tween apparel spending between August 2012 and July 2013 rose 11.2%, to $14.4 billion. One of the top times to buy kids' clothes is the Back-to-School season. For this 2013/2014 school year, shoppers planned to spend an average of $231 on Back-to-School clothes, relatively flat from last year ($227), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey. On average, tweens at the upper end of the age group (13-year-olds) spend approximately $69 on clothes each month.
While the economy has parents thinking twice about what they purchase, the fact that kids are vocal about their preferences is also a factor. The NPD Group's Marshal Cohen says some kids are fashionistas who know what they want, while others are merely naysayers who know what they will not wear. Either way, today's parents work closely with their children to get the wardrobe right.
"'Presearch' (research prior to shopping) is a very big part of it," Cohen says. "The tween market does a lot of it — selecting choices online and working in conjunction with their parents to get them to bring their wallet and be part of the process. In fact, tweens are a very big part before, during, and after the sale."
CWD Kids' Bryan Jones, president, says it might seem like children get their way more these days, but that is also because shopping has changed so much.
"Years ago, you waited for a catalog to come in the mail or you had to choose something after you drove all the way to a store," Jones explains. "Now, the kids can see things they like on all these TV shows that are created for their age group, and then go online to find it. Parents can see what they like without the pressure of buying everything right then and there in-store."
A recent study from the London School of Economics and Political Science found tween Internet usage patterns resemble those of teenagers five-to-six years ago. And a study by security firm McAfee found that about 67% of children ages 8-to-12 were active on social media, with 95% saying their web activity was monitored by their parents. This allows them to talk about brands and styles, and get reinforcement from their friends.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of older tweens say they browse the Internet for clothes, up significantly from 53% in 2011, according to the Monitor.
While some retailers appeal to tweens with online games and contests, others are reluctant to do so. CWD Kids maintains Facebook and Pinterest pages, as well as a blog on its site, but Jones says that's all geared toward engaging the parents. More recently, the company has asked Facebook fans to vote on catalog covers or the best way to complete an outfit.
"We get great feedback," Jones says. "Sometimes it's spot on, sometimes it doesn't align with what has already had a good selling history. But we factor it all in."
Mazuelos says the Facebook page for Izzy and Ash allows for dialogue with parents, but it's primarily used to relay store news and events. Tween shoppers, meanwhile, can browse online as well as visit the boutique.
"Austin tends to be a more laid back town, so the people who come in are very different than our online customers," she says. "People online know the specific lines and items they want. In store, people want to touch the clothes and try things on."
The majority of older tweens get their apparel ideas from people they see regularly (54%), what they already own and like (54%), family (42%) store displays (41%) and TV shows (38%), according to the Monitor.
Jones says TV can "definitely" influence tween-age kids.
"And there are a lot more shows, especially on Disney and Nickelodeon, geared to 9-to-12-year-olds than there used to be."
Cohen says TV can guide more than just a tween's fashion sense. Sassy TV kids can inspire tweens to be more outspoken about what they want to wear.
"Entertainment has a huge influence on children, in general," he says. "Kids are much more influenced than any other segment of the market. What they say on TV, how they say it, what they wear and how they wear it absolutely influences tweens."
This article is one in a series that appears weekly on WWD.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.