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"Kidfluence" at the Cash Register:
The Back-to-School Market Comes of Age

By Paul Paterson
April 1, 2003

Over the last few years, the back to school season has developed into one of the biggest retail periods of the year, according to industry experts.

"The Back To School season is second only to Christmas to a lot of retailers in terms of sales of apparel, school supplies, office supplies, shoes, etc," said Ellen Tolley, Manager of Media Relations for the National Retail Federation. NRF figures from 2002 show families spent an average of $441.60 on back-to-school supplies. Research also shows that children spent $131 themselves on school supplies, clothing and accessories. Tolley believes this level of Tween spending makes them an important demographic.

"Certainly $131 per child is a significant amount of money and they need to be marketed differently than their parents," Tolley said.

An NRF survey showed 76 percent of respondents claiming that children have a large influence on the purchase of back to school supplies, and 74.6 percent said their children have an influence on clothes. This level of kidfluence has revolutionized how manufacturers and retailers market their products.

Gel Pens

Paul Kurnit, founder and president of KidShop, says brand consciousness is a significant motivating factor with youth. Teachers, he explains, rarely list specific brand names or products on their back-to-school buy-lists. It's the kids themselves that fill in the blanks, though there is often a conflict between the child and the mother, who is more often motivated by price and value. The product itself ultimately determines who wins this struggle. For example, Kurnit points to Gel Pens, a highly successful product release that offered consumers a decidedly different feature at a higher price point.

"Brand is very powerful with kids and if you can build brand, you can build price," Kurnit explained. "Kid power is so strong, if a kid votes loudly over brand, mom is likely to grant that request unless the product is commodified and no different than a less expensive version."

Given this power to influence, Kurnit advises marketers that getting in front of Tweens early is the best way to develop long-term loyalty.

"I think you want to get to them when they're eight or nine. You want to get to them at the cusp of Tweendom," he said.

Kurnit believes a significant factor driving this increased spending is a change in how children view school, which makes what they buy and what they use more important than ever.

"There's been a fundamental change in the way kids feel about school," Kurnit said. "Ten years ago school was boring and something they did because they had to. Today school is cool. School is the place you meet all your friends. School is a fashion environment. Teachers are hipper. Curriculum is more relevant. It is where kids get their first experience with computers, where they are first exposed to the Internet."

"Since school is such a predominant part of their lives,” Kurnit said, “it is important to have a collection of brands that help them fit in.”


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