Lists and Prospecting: Tapping the Teen Market

If you sell trendy apparel and extreme sports gear, chances are you’re already targeting teens. But marketers selling more mainstream products, from casual clothing to home furnishings, may find that high school- and college-age kids are worth mailing to.

After all, Americans ages 12-19 spent $170 billion last year, according to a study by Northbrook, IL-based market research firm Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU). That’s up 10% from the $155 billion that “tweens” and teens had spent two years earlier.

And more of these young consumers are charging their purchases on their own credit cards. According to a report on Public Broadcasting System (PBS), a 2000 study of college students found that 22% had owned a credit card in high school, compared with 11% in 1994. Furthermore, a 1999 Consumer Federation of America study showed that 70% of undergraduate college students possessed at least one credit card.

Tweens and teens who make catalog purchases “are often first-time buyers developing long-term brand loyalty,” says Jan Stumacher, president/CEO of Lynbrook, NY-based Student Marketing, a compiler and marketer of lists specializing in the young-adult market. “So if you get them early on when they’re first developing early shopping habits, your customer loyalty and branding will go for extraordinarily longer periods of time than the one-time older buyer.”

But while the members of Generation Y (usually defined as those born between 1982 and 1990) are clearly out there and spending, it’s not easy finding suitable catalog lists for prospecting. What’s more, college students change addresses frequently, making it a challenge for mailers to keep up with them.

Among the catalog mailers targeting teens, apparel marketers Delia’s and Alloy stand out. Other players include The Venus Edge, a spin-off of the Venus Swimwear catalog; shoe cataloger Journeys; apparel and home decor catalog Peace Frogs; Sweet & Powerful, which specializes in clothing for teen girls; and, which sells apparel and gifts for teens as well as mugs, paddles, and other accessories for college fraternities and sororities.

Mainstream clothing marketers, such as J. Crew and Newport News, have dabbled with the Gen-Y market on a limited basis for years. Home decor cataloger/retailer Pottery Barn in April launched PBTeen, which sells furnishings specifically for tweens and teens. And another cataloger/retailer, Urban Outfitters, introduced an apparel catalog for teens and young adults this spring as well.

Where the teens are

Because the number of catalog lists with a significant and selectable number of teen buyers is so small, those who target the market rely heavily on teen magazine readers and compiled lists of teens.

In fact, magazine lists are Alloy’s best source for prospecting to teenage females, says Mitch Schultz, director of direct marketing for the New York-based multititle teen-oriented cataloger.

“When it comes to teen girls, if you can find them, you’re pretty much there, because every teen girl shops for clothes,” says Schultz, who adds that the subscriber files of Cosmo Girl, Seventeen, YM, and other mass-circulation magazines aimed at the market are the most productive.

Reaching teen males is more difficult. “There aren’t any major large-circulation magazines that appeal to boys,” Schultz says.

What’s more, the Gen-Y male market is more segmented. For instance, in addition to its Girlfriends LA and Alloy teen girls’ apparel titles, Alloy caters to males with its CCS catalog, which sells skateboarding equipment and apparel, and its Dan’s Competition catalog of BMX bicycles and parts. “For those books,” Schultz says, “finding a teen boy isn’t sufficient. You have to find those interested in skateboarding or BMX bikes.”

To find these prospects, Alloy rents the lists of several limited-circulation magazines for skateboarders and extreme-sports participants. The company then works with Experian’s Z24 co-op database to run overlays to make sure it’s getting teen boys who are also mail order buyers. “For instance, not everybody who snowboards is a teenager,” Schultz notes, “although it’s safe to say that just about everybody who rides skateboards is.”

But its mainly compilers that specialize in the teen market, such as American Student List and Student Marketing, that offer data on consumers younger than 18. For that reason, Alloy turns to Z24 for household data such as the presence of teens.

In addition to lists from teen-oriented magazines and catalogs, less obvious options may be worth a try. For instance, test preparation course provider Stanley Kaplan makes its list available, as does, an Internet search engine that enables kids to search for available college scholarships for free.

According to a list professional who requested anonymity, at least two catalogers have used the Kaplan Test Prep masterfile: Journey Education Marketing, a catalog of education software, and The Container Store, for special offers to college kids.

Keeping updated

Because teens are highly mobile — moving from home to school to home — it’s critical that lists targeting them be updated monthly, Student Marketing’s Stumacher says. The information “needs to be compiled continually so that the lists can be segmented substantially by age, income, and even geographic regions.”

In addition to finding lists that are updated monthly, catalogers should ask for lifestyle and household information — whether the potential prospects have siblings, for instance, and if they’re interested in sports, hobbies, and other activities, says Steve Stolls, vice president of sales for Mineola, NY-based list compiler American Student List. Because kids have diverse — and constantly changing — interests, getting data on such interests can help you fine-tune your prospecting efforts, he explains.

Catalogers looking for lists of college-age consumers in particular should ask for information on the teens’ college plans. List compilers offer data on whether college kids will be living away from home or commuting, Stolls says.

“You should also find out if parents have made catalog purchases before,” he suggests. “Because you can overlay household information with the presence of a child. And if a parent has placed catalog orders, there’s a good likelihood the children will too,” says Stolls.

As for e-mail lists, because they’re so in tune with using e-mail, “kids are certainly better suited to receive offers via e-mail,” says Donna Musetti, senior account executive at Danbury, CT-based list firm Statlistics. But response isn’t as high as with print catalog offers, because e-mail typically drives customers to catalogers’ Websites.

“If possible, catalogers should find prospecting files consisting of both postal and e-mail addresses,” suggests Stolls. “Send an e-mail to college kids alerting them that they’ll be getting a catalog within the next five days and if they buy something within the next week they can get an extra percentage off.”

According to several sources who won’t reveal specifics, marketers such as J. Crew, Spiegel, Best Buy, Delia’s, and Abercrombie & Fitch have obtained lists of e-mail and postal addresses to conduct what Stolls refers to as “blended campaigns.”

“This audience loves receiving offers through the mail,” Stolls says. “So by getting right in their faces with blended campaigns, you can establish brand awareness.”

Tougher Profit?

In comparing results from this year’s Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Marketing (February issue) and the same report five years ago, it’s apparent that prospecting and mailing profitably are becoming more difficult for catalogers.

“How many purchases must a customer make before you can market to him/her profitably?”
2003 1998
One purchase 34% 48%
Two 38% 38%
More than two 13% 14%
Not sure 15% n/a
% of total respondents
Source: Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Marketing

Where Prospect Orders Come From

“Where do your prospect sales come from?”
0 1%-24% 25%-49% 50%-74% 75%-100% n/a
Outside lists 6% 47% 14% 1% 1% 31%
Catalog requests 1% 69% 2% 1% 1% 26%
Website orders 2% 56% 12% 3% 1% 26%
Source: Catalog Age Benchmark Report on Marketing

To purchase the complete results from Catalog Age’s Benchmark Report on Marketing, visit The Marketer’s Research Store on

Whose Generation Is It, Anyway?

If you’re a catalog marketer who needs to get a handle on just what generation your target audience is, you might be surprised to see how garbled the definitions of the various age generations have become since the last baby boomers were born in 1964.

According to several sources, including Stamford, CT-based newsletter and research firm Simba Information (a sister firm of Catalog Age) and Minneapolis-based consulting firm BridgeWorks, the U.S. population breaks down as follows:

  • traditionalists (born prior to 1945): 75 million
  • baby boomers (born 1946-1964): 80 million
  • Generation X (born 1965-1981): 46 million
  • Generation Y — or millennials, according to BridgeWorks (born after 1981): 76 million if you include all kids born since 1981. But while Simba defines the Gen-Y consumer group as kids born between 1982 and 1990, BusinessWeek refers to Gen-Y as the 60 million kids born between 1979 and 1994.

It’s all semantics, of course.

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