*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on MediaPost.
The recently concluded holiday season was a brutal one for brick-and-mortar retailers. Consumer spending didn’t materialize the way department-store chains were hoping, and the repercussions have been swift and harsh. Macy’s announced it was closing 68 stores and cutting 6,200 jobs, sending its stock down 14% the next day. Kohl’s reported disappointing holiday sales and lowered its 2017 outlook, causing its stock to plunge 19%. Sears, meanwhile, announced the closure of 41 Sears stores and 109 Kmarts.
Clearly, the migration away from stores and toward online shopping seems only to be hastening. While major retailers typically report increasing online sales, for most of them, it’s not enough to offset declines in their bread-and-butter, brick-and-mortar business. Even the best-established brands like Walmart and Target are merely treading water, while others like Sears are rapidly facing an existential crisis. What does this mean for teens and the brands that sell to them?
- The mall as we know it is gone. For the last three generations, teen life was centered on malls. As Myles Udland recently explored in Yahoo Finance, mall life was depicted in movies (“Mean Girls,” “Mallrats”) as a place where teens could taste that first bit of freedom in an environment that was still fairly structured and safe. Now that anchor tenants such as Macy’s and Sears are going away, so is that mall experience. Already the classic indoor malls of the 1970s and 1980s are being converted to outdoor “entertainment and lifestyle centers.” And with other demographic changes afoot, some of these projects are aimed more at tourists, upper-income adults and families than at teens. With the rise of social media, teens have “virtual” meeting places that didn’t exist a decade or two ago, but these still don’t replace physical meeting spots for face time, hanging together, first dates, first purchase decisions, etc. Besides Snapchat and Instagram, what will replace malls as these meeting spots?
- Entertainment and experiential destinations rule. Now that teens (and Americans of all ages) are buying less “stuff” in-person, the burden of anchoring malls and providing “safe space” to teens falls to restaurants, movie theaters, gaming establishments, and other venues that provide an experience that can’t be replicated online.
- The first “teen Amazon” wins. Remarkably, consumers are buying an increasing amount of “stuff” online; teens are at the vanguard of online/mobile usage; they tend to like branded environments that speak uniquely to them; and yet nobody has offered one in a big way.
Imagine a fun, easy-to-use, fully mobile-enabled service with great content, recommendations, tips from YouTube personalities, ways to be social with your friends, ways to become friends with tastemakers and those who share your taste, tools to post content and co-create new looks, and a marketplace where young fashionistas can easily create and sell their new lines. The first service to fully capitalize on this opportunity has the potential to own its category just as much as Facebook, Uber and Airbnb own theirs.