If you're not yet convinced of the massive buying power of tweens, maybe these figures will do the trick: in 2002, these kids (ages 8 to 12, around 20 million Americans) represented sales of $10.1 billion in the United States alone. Experts say right now this is the fastest-growing area in many global markets, including the UK, writes Stacy Baker.

If you're not yet convinced of the massive buying power of tweens, maybe these figures will do the trick: in 2002, these kids (ages 8 to 12, around 20 million Americans) represented sales of $10.1 billion in the United States alone, while teens sold for $20.9 billion, according to Marshal Cohen, an NPD analyst who specialises in the segments.

And these figures are only beginning to rise. Experts say right now this is the fastest-growing area in many global markets, including the UK. Not bad when you consider the average price per garment was just $15.1 last year, which means tweens have been buying a lot clothes, according to FashionTrak.

So what's hot with tweens these days? Michael Pagnotta, president of Reach Media and a spokesperson for Wal-Mart's Mary-Kate and Ashley line, says his brand mirrors the tastes of the general market, with a lot of the 60s- and 70s-inspired looks doing very well. Also popular are vertical stripe pants and skirts, peasant blouses and denim skirts. For the future, he sees the red, white and blue trend continuing through spring and summer.

Into autumn, Cohen believes the "less is more" theory will thrive. "Tweens are going for more of the basics that offer the opportunity to individualise the items," he says. "The other trends are more of what we saw the end of fall last year, like peasant blouses with embroidered jeans, crochet tops and lots of flairs on sleeves and pants."

Also look for cropped cargos and very weathered or distressed bottoms. He says the casual look will continue to be trendy with Juicy-Couture-inspired athletic warmups in terry, velour and knit jersey with slight design tweaks among designers. "Even women and teens wearing men's pyjama bottoms as casual pants are making the street scene already."

Vertical retailers lead
As you might expect, many of the already-successful brands and vertical retailers are doing the best job reaching a fickle market that seems to be as trendy, stylish and price-conscious as its teen peers.

Wal-Mart's Mary-Kate and Ashley line seems to have hit the nail on the head (hands down the best, says Cohen), perhaps because its design is created by the fellow celebrity tweens.

"Tween tastes are as broad and varied as any other demographic, but one thing's for sure: they aspire upward," says Michael Pagnotta. "They are aware of what's going on with their older sisters and brothers - what music they listen to, magazines they read, movies and videos they're curious about and clothes they wear."

Bob Atkinson, director of public relations for Limited Too, agrees. His company just signed a deal with Reebok to launch a line of uniquely designed, fashion-forward athletic footwear for girls in 51 of the retailer's more than 500 stores

Teens know what style, brand and fit they want. Tweens come in and are more likely to be open to an associate helping them in terms of what's fashionable, as well as functional." Limited Too's partnership with Reebok makes it easier for the company to meet this need by offering head to toe looks that mix-and-match and work together. The brand's cachet is heightened by a "catazine" mailed to more than four million girls several times a year.

Also making a mark on this segment are vertical retailers like Express, American Eagle, Aeropostale and Abercrombie, says Cohen. Brands still hot are jeans labels like Lucky, Seven and Diesel. And of course, retailers like Pacific Sunwear and Wet Seal aren't targeting tweens (rather their older brothers and sisters) yet they still see some foot traffic from the younger audience.

New to the scene are higher-end designers like Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Nautica, each of whom is extending its reach into this increasingly status-conscious segment. The benefit for the old standbys is that they have an opportunity for parents to back the brand as well, since they grew up with it. "A lot of tween influence comes from the parent and that's why the retro hit the younger market more than the boomer market."

Retail opportunities
Despite the market's progress there are still many opportunities for savvy retailers, says Cohen. Part of the challenge is that the group is in the midst of coming to maturity, not really mama's baby anymore but still too young to date.

"This means that many of the tweens are not yet ready for prime time fashion and the parents are going to spend the big bucks for the brand names," he says.

"Stores like Target and Limited Too fare best here. However there are a fair amount of tweens that are fashion savvy and the parents are willing to let them begin to experiment with fashion. Hollister is a great place for them to start, but the prices are high. That is where American Eagle and Delia's do well in the well-priced fashion department for the early fashionite."

Key, though, is determining what this market wants. Brands like Mary-Kate and Ashley seem to have found the formula. They empower kids by giving them a sense of choice and style, while keeping the design age-appropriate, says Pagnotta.

"Because Mary-Kate and Ashley originally conceived this line as being 'by kids for kids,' they are able to draw on their own experience and instincts about what their peers will be interested in at any given time," he says. "This remains true as they get older. They also have an excellent co-design team that scours the world identifying cool new trends that work in both tween and teen lifestyle apparel."

Stepped up efforts
This doesn't mean the segment is without challenges. It's not only a fickle, style-conscious group, but in terms of numbers, its size is not as large as say baby boomers or even teens, according to Cohen. This means brands will have to step up their efforts to reach a smaller number of people in order to grow their revenues.

Expert Analysis

The U.S. Tween Market: The Younger Tween Segment
This report provides a thorough analysis of the tweens market, which includes more than 23 million young American consumers ages 8 to 14. The study begins with a demographic overview of tweens that includes an analysis of where they live, how much their parents earn, and what they think is important in life. Factors affecting the tweens market, such as population and household income projections, are evaluated, and estimates of market size and growth are provided. The report then presents an analysis of the consumer behavior of tweens, including an overview of the similarities and differences between boys and girls, their shopping behavior, and patterns of brand loyalty. Special emphasis is given to the impact of the Internet on the shopping and buying habits of tweens. Find out more here.

 

"This market is one of the smallest just because of the shortage of age duration, meaning, tweens are for ages 8-12 - only five years - and not all kids stay in that segment up to age 12 and not all begin it at 8 either."

When marketing to such a small range of ages and one that has consumers on the cusp, a brand's job becomes tougher. "When you couple that with the fast pace of fashion and the hit or miss factor, it makes for a high level of risk," he says. "Hitting the right trends to a small age group that is very fickle to begin with makes for a lot of markdowns."

Even though these kids are celeb-inspired, looking for direction from favourites like Mary-Kate and Ashley, J Lo and Britney Spears, Cohen says their two key influences are friends and moms. They want to be different, but only in terms of colours, not in styles.

"Individuality is about looking different, but not by setting the style," he says. "They tend to want what others have and seek group acceptance. Tweens tend not to want to stick out as individuals, preferring to shop with mom and tending toward liking to coordinate. They are learning to play dress up, and fashion, but not as adventurous to allow them to be embarrassed."

Most important, Cohen says, is to be real. "Kids smell the BS factor at a very early age and it's not something they like."