They’re Not All Broke: Why do retailers ignore teenage money?

The shopping experience.

The last time I accompanied my teenager to the mall was during back to school time, it was also when I had a true retail epiphany. He is seventeen, working for a popular fast food chain, he is paid minimum wage to deal with disgruntle employees, unpleasant customers coming from the strip bar across the street, and the repulsive odor that never leaves the facilities. I honestly wouldn’t be disappointed if he quit his job tomorrow, but he loves the feel of money and how it fattens up his wallet every two weeks. On this particular trip to the mall he had just cashed his paycheck and was ready to spend. I lagged behind as he strolled from store to store. We came across a popular athletic shop, as he walked along the wall of shoes, I noticed there were only a few customers in the store. I also noticed three sales people at the counter while he picks up a shoe — he is ignored, he studies the style and the fit, — he is ignored, he is pulling sizes from the boxes — he is ignored. Meanwhile, I am on the side lines observing all of this, thinking why are they not acknowledging my child? The sales people are still gathered around the register just talking amongst themselves, my son then asks for his correct size, tries them on and pays for them. He walked out the door with a pair of Nikes that took him twenty working hours to earn and the sales people didn’t even do their job!

They matter.

As a retail manager I wanted to coach these sales people on their customer service skills, and as a mother, I wanted to tell my son to drop the shoes and leave the store. This is where I come to the conclusion that the retail world is failing their most valuable customers; the teenage shopper. The average teenager spends $9,626 per year, and 64% of these teenagers prefer to shop in stores before going online. So why ignore the teenage shopper? These kids have money to spend, compared to the average adult who has to justify his/her impulsive purchases, such as the new contour kit from Sephora, (trust me, I am still saving). If businesses in retail think teenagers don’t deserve their time and energy, they are missing a huge opportunity. In my experience in retail, it never matters who walks in that door, they come into the store for a reason, maybe someone told them where to shop, or maybe they saw something in the window that caught their eye? The mission is to find out the hidden need while making an impact on their personal experience. Even if that teen just came in to browse, he or she will be back because they have a paycheck coming or their parents credit card is up for grabs. It’s those 64% that you can build your profits off of just by treating them like they matter. I know if one of those three sales people would have at least tried to help my son with his selection of shoes, maybe offered some cleaner, some socks, or even another pair of shoes? I guarantee he would have bought more! he had the money. In an article for The Business Insider, they mentioned the top things a teenager looks for to become a loyal customer, they are; cool music, fun environment, cool merchandise and great customer-service. So for all you retailers, if your target customers fit the age profile between 15 to 23, you might want to consider stepping up your customer service game. Meanwhile, I will educate my teenager on what good vs. bad-service behaviors look like, in the hopes he will make good decisions on where to spend his hard earn money based on how he is treated.