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1530R-14054;76649469Seemingly all of a sudden, Abercrombie is a ghost town, and Aeropostale is filled mainly with space. The youthful shoppers that have crowded their aisles for years have disappeared, quickly and dramatically. For both these well-known retail names and those that hope to target similar markets in the future, the reasons for the shift are deeply informative.

First, as everyone knows, no teens want to shop in the same store their parents shop. Many parents, when they realized that they could find clothing their kids would accept, and even appreciate, at such stores, started heading there themselves. That move radically diminished the appeal of the stores for their children, who shuddered at the idea of running into mom or dad while checking out the options at Wet Seal.

Second, broader trends in the employment market suggest that teens may have less discretionary income than previous generations had. For example, unemployment rates among 16- to 19-year-olds in the United States exceed 20 percent, whereas the national average is less than 7 percent. In response, teenaged consumers seek out more affordable options, many of which appear in the same malls as the more expensive retailers. For spending-constrained teens, a fast fashion option from H&M, Topshop, or Forever 21 has more appeal than a similar, but more expensive, shirt or pair of shorts from Zumiez or American Eagle.

Third, modern teens are members of the digital natives generational cohort. That means that they never imagined that they had to visit a store to get the latest styles. Instead, they have always turned to the Internet, which provides them with access to cutting-edge fashions, often for low prices and delivered to their doors.

Fourth, these digital natives also have other things on which to spend their money. Making sure they have the latest phone, multiplayer game, or tablet may be more important than adding a new pair of jeans to their wardrobes.

Although some of these trends and transformations affect retailers across the board, those that sell clothing to teenagers are being particularly hard hit. As one analyst put it, sales have been so poor that it seems as if most teens should be walking around naked. Clearly that is not the case, which means that it is up to retailers to find out where their customers have gone and how to get them back.

Source: Elizabeth A. Harris, “Retailers Ask: Where Did the Teenagers Go?” The New York Times, January 31, 2014