Long Live The Teenage Mallrat

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Teens used to be mallrats, which made it much easier for companies to win their attention and their dollars because they hung out in a space that was dedicated to brands and retail.

Then came the era of social media and online shopping—and suddenly teens had little use for the mall because they had other means to connect with friends and acquire products through digital platforms.

With retailers ranging from Macy’s to Forever 21 struggling, the much-rumored death of malls seems imminent, but teens can actually be the salvation for many retailers who learn how to court this modern young consumer. In-store shopping greatly appeals to teens for a number of reasons, meaning it has the opportunity to compete with the digital retail space. Cassandra research finds that, unlike their older counterparts, 53% of teens prefer to shop with friends, and doing so in person is easier and offers deeper social engagement than doing so online.

Yet malls and retailers have cut out much of the socialization that teens seek. They took away casual seating areas to make more room for products and kiosks, making teens feel less welcome to just come in and hang out. While a third of teens report that they hang out at malls when they have nothing else to do, 42% wish stores would offer more designated areas where they can just hang out and relax, showing that this need is not fully being met.

To teens, the shopping portion of retail is secondary to the social experience, so retailers should aim to look less like a store and more like a community center. Ironically, by taking the focus off selling products and putting it on creating a space for young people to hang out, teens are more likely to visit and more likely to buy, at least according to the “slow shopping” theory.

Despite spending an outsized amount of time online, a majority of teens today still prefer to shop in-store (60%) rather than online (41%). However, if retailers continue to stick to the their old ways of doing business, they will continue to lose teen shoppers. This is a critical point for stores and malls to win Gen Z while they’re young and still forming habits and brand loyalties. As consumers get older, their preference for shopping online grows—and retailers will have missed the chance to convince them of the joys of shopping in-store.

by Melanie Shreffler, Senior Director of Insights, Cassandra