Tween Consumes: Catalog Clothing Purchase Behavior

By Simpson, Linda; Douglas, Sara et al. | Adolescence, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview
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Tween Consumes: Catalog Clothing Purchase Behavior


Simpson, Linda, Douglas, Sara, Schimmel, Julie, Adolescence


Children, preadolescents, and teens are the fastest growing market sectors in the United States. According to Teen Research Unlimited (1991), adolescents in the United States spent $82 billion on goods and services in 1991. The children's market for consumer goods increased by 20% from 1988 to 1995, and the preteen, or tween, market is considered extremely significant in itself (Federal Trade Commission, Office of Public Affairs, 1995). The term tween is used to describe preadolescents, ages 12-14, who are in a somewhat awkward, transitional stage of life - they have left childhood but have not actually become teenagers. Described by Cuneo (1989) as too old for Ronald McDonald and to young for car keys, tweens are reported to have more discretionary purchasing power than younger children or older adolescents, to shop at least three times a week, and to save 30% of their spending money for higher ticket items (McLaughlin, 1991). Cuneo (1989) reported that tweens buy or influence the purchase of $45 billion worth of goods a year. Thus, tweens are being targeted heavily by marketers, who recognize the cash clout and influence on family purchases of this consumer group.

The shift in family dynamics in the 1990s also plays an important role in marketing strategy. Many school-age children live in households where both parents work. Additionally, in 1994, one in four households with children was headed by a single parent, up from one in eight in 1970 (Miller, 1994). More dual-income families and nontraditional households has led to greater responsibility being placed upon tweens and teens, giving them greater purchasing power and more independence (Cuneo, 1989; McLaughlin, 1991; Miller, 1994; Rickard, 1994). Parents simply do not have as much time for shopping, so this duty frequently is passed to their children. For example, about one-third of tweens do the family grocery shopping on a weekly basis (McLaughlin, 1991).

Not only do many marketers realize the spending power of tween consumers, they also capitalize on the knowledge that the junior high school years are a time of vulnerability to peer pressure and conformity. Studies have found that wearing certain types of clothing, especially brand-name apparel, is a way of "fitting in" for both tweens and teenagers (Daters, 1990; Forney & Forney, 1995; Frances, 1992; Kelly & Eicher, 1970; Miller, 1994; Rickard, 1994; Rosenberg, 1989; Smucker & Creekmore, 1972; Storm, 1987; Whalen, 1994). According to Kidtrends Report, "kids aged 6-14 care a lot about the brands and styles of clothes they wear" (Guber & Berry, 1993, p. 3). In comparison to breakfast cereals, soft drinks, and videotapes, more kids are concerned with brand-name clothing (Guber & Berry, 1993). Research suggests that tweens place even more emphasis on brand names than do older adolescents (Cuneo, 1989; Fitzgerald, 1992; Koester & May, 1985; McLaughlin, 1991; Simpson, 1994).

Conformity has been associated with the need for acceptance, approval, and harmonious relationships with others (Batra, Kahle, Rose, & Shoham, 1994). It has been suggested that a barrier to social participation among teens is perceived clothing deprivation - not being able to dress as peers do, for whatever reason (Francis, 1992). Studies have supported the idea that clothing can contribute to adolescent acceptance or rejection (Littrell & Eicher, 1973; Smucker & Creekmore, 1972). Forney and Forney (1995) have suggested that, for junior high school students, clothing, appearance, and acceptance by peers become so important that tweens may look to gangs for social cues, including dress.

Businesses know the demographics and recognize the significance clothing has for young people. One way they have responded is by developing highly specialized catalogs. Catalog shopping, or nonstore marketing, offers convenience and is becoming increasingly popular for families strapped for time.

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