The other day, I was jealous of a 9-year-old. It was our weekly Saturday excursion to the mall. I was in charge of pushing my newborn daughter in her stroller, while my husband frantically chased after our preschooler son. Suddenly, in my peripheral vision, a glint of luminescent black caught my eye. Hunched over on a bench sat a spikey-haired youngster who looked to me no older than a fourth grader, scrolling through the seemingly endless playlists on his brand-new shiny iPod. And it wasn’t even an iPod nano or an iPod shuffle—nope, his parents (or his trust fund) had sprung for a full-featured iPod Video. The cool U2 special edition with the apple-red clickwheel…
It’s a not-so-rare scene these days: tech-savvy grade-school, middle-school, and high-school students sporting the latest and greatest consumer electronics, from the ubiquitous iPod and cellphones to easy-to-use camcorders and digital cameras that have more megapixel power than the first digicam I owned as an adult eight years ago.
But what lures tweens and teens to the digicam counter? What are the biggest draws for this segment? And, perhaps most importantly, how are photo retailers starting to grab the minds, hearts, and (sorry, Mom and Dad) allowances of these young big spenders?
From Teddy Bears to Computer Mice…
When we say “young,” we do mean young—and consumer electronics fans are apparently getting even younger. According to a recent revealing (and arguably startling) study from The NPD Group, kids are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, playing video games and using and downloading content to cellphones, computers, and portable digital music players (PDMPs) as young as age 2—yes, age 2. It’s hard for me to lump my own 2-year-old son into this demographic, but as I consider how well he’s already learned to manipulate the mouse for my Mac, I have to admit it’s probably true.
In the study, “Kids & Digital Content,” which provides insight into kids’ (ages 2 through 14) usage and interaction with CE devices and the dynamics behind acquiring digital content for these devices, downloading games is the most prevalent activity. And while only 15% of 2- to 5-year-olds use cellphones, 62% are using them by ages 11 to 14.
“Without a doubt, kids are digital content natives, seamlessly navigating between traditional and digital sources of media without missing a step,” says Anita Frazier, an industry analyst for The NPD Group. “To kids, there is nothing new or novel about digital sources of entertainment. Whether it’s time spent on a cellphone or personal computer, listening to a PDMP, or playing video games, today’s kids are more tech-savvy than ever before. The real challenge for marketers is to be one step ahead of their competition, providing the content and technology kids crave.”
Plus, on average, kids ages 4 to 14 are using consumer electronics devices six months earlier than they were in a 2005 study, according to a different NPD Group report, “Kids and Consumer Electronics II.” Purchase intent for kids is highest for “hot ticket” items such as digital cameras, cellphones, and portable video game systems. In terms of personal ownership, more than twice the number of kids personally own portable digital music players and digital cameras this year versus 2005, while cellphone ownership is up by 50 percent.
“Any business that markets or sells products to kids needs to be aware of the role of these CE devices in their lives,” says Frazier. “Today’s kids are digital natives whose activities are fundamentally different than previous generations.”
And lest you think the Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) don’t wield any real buying power, consider this: Nearly one-third (30%) of 8- to 17-year-olds say they are involved in making family purchase decisions, up four percentage points in just the last year, according to a recent study on RetailWire.com. And they get the green from a variety of sources. According to a 2005 Roper Youth Report, kids earn $29.20 per week, with 23% coming from gifts, 29% coughed up from parents, and 37% earned the old-fashioned way: from doing chores.
Coming Up With a Retail Strategy That Can Rein Them In
So how can photo retailers capture some of this youthful windfall? First, it’s helpful to keep your finger on the pulse of what kids are buying in your store. “Single-use cameras have always been popular among the younger crowd, but now we’re also seeing lots of youths from 10 years up shooting with digital cameras,” says Jeff Beauchamp, president of Bedford Camera & Video. “It seems that all they want is a cool, smart, compact digital camera, especially among the junior-high and high-school age group. They love the models that have MP3 capacity so that they can also incorporate music and show off their cameras.”
Beauchamp’s young customers do have cellphones, but not necessarily to call their parents when they’re running past curfew. “It seems that a very large percentage of our younger customers have cellphones but only use them for quick pictures to be included with instant messaging,” he explains. “Very few of these images are ever printed, where we have a nice percentage of teenagers using the in-store kiosk and printing images taken with their digital cameras.”
Beauchamp believes that the relationship his store has with his young charges starts with the older generation. “I think number one is the relationship we have with their parents,” he says. “Many of these youngsters feel comfortable in our stores because they have grown up coming in and out to have their portraits made, or dropping off developing with their parents.”
Bedford tries to reach out to its youth market through its advertising as well. “We’ve incorporated a young person in the majority of our television commercials with Mr. Bedford to indicate that we are family- and youth-friendly,” he says. “We also work closely with the media on events dealing with kids’ safety, back-to-school promotions, and a lot of free pictures of kids with radio station mascots, Santa, and the Easter Bunny.”
Mike Woodland of Dan’s Camera City stresses that his store doesn’t specifically focus on the kids themselves—and that they’re not automatically the easiest sell. “We’re actually more focused on their parents,” he says. “At certain times of year, we do market more to the high school/college-age kids—they seem quite drawn to our collage posters from the HP Photosmart Studio system, for example. They like having one poster full of images for their party or to take with them to college.