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It's, like, what those mall girls do

It's not just about the shopping when teens head to the malls, says marketing Professor Julie Baker.

By Jaime Walker Blanton '02

Weekend sightings are most common. Known to travel in packs, adolescents can be spotted eyeing the opposite sex and are regularly misunderstood by elders.

What is it that separates the young of this species from others in the wild kingdom? Maybe it's their ability to accessorize and spend.

Adolescent girls kept U.S. cash registers ringing to the tune of $170 billion in 2002. And teen shoppers encouraged their parents to spend $200 billion more.

Known in the retail industry as the largest, most free-spending teenage American generation ever, this trend-savvy, often boy-crazy bunch has carved a niche in the consumer culture. While most American shoppers would rather browse stand-alone retail stores, retailers bank on teenage girls and their entourage of parents and friends to keep the local mall in business.

Though it's no secret to moms of teenagers, understanding why adolescent girls flock to malls -- as much as five hours on a weekend (and that's just the weekend) -- has become big business for retailers who hope to keep these patrons happy and the cash flowing.

Secrets of the teenage mind emerge in research conducted by Julie Baker, associate professor of marketing in the M. J. Neeley School of Business. Baker is co-author with Diana L. Haytko at Southwest Missouri State of "It's All at the Mall: Exploring Adolescent Girl's Experiences," recently published in the Journal of Retailing. The research puts an academic spin on what business owners need to know about the shopping habits of adolescent girls.

Age and racial boundaries aside, the authors found numerous universal answers. Safe, clean, easily accessible malls with lots of stores serve as an ideal hangout. Girls enjoy the freedom of being able to meander, browsing at any shop. One-day sales at a massive anchor store are not the draw; instead, teenagers peruse specialty shops to assess the latest fashion trend, hunt for that must-have collectible or stock up on flowery-smelling soaps and lotions. An interesting tip for retailers, according to Baker: Girls not only like to visit their friends who work at the mall, but they are also more likely to spend in those stores.

Although age does play a role in determining just how much attention girls pay to designer labels, their choice for a shopping companion makes the most difference when it comes to turning browser to buyer.

"Adolescents who visited the mall with their parents tended to purchase more products compared to those who visited the mall with their friends," Baker says. And "young girls represent significant sales even if it is not obvious on a given mall visit. That's because teenage girls often use mall excursions with friends to scout for purchases that are later made with mom's credit card."

The biggest winners in all of this aren't the stores but the food court vendors. Baker's research shows that every time adolescent girls enter a mall, they eat.

Indeed, for teenage girls great eateries often indicate a great mall. "They also choose and evaluate malls on the number of choices available in the food court," Baker says.

What can retailers learn from Baker's research? That mall revenue is directly linked to the nation's most social creatures. That a communal weekend experience for America's teens represents huge profits for the nation's mall retailers.

Interviewee Chelsea sums the teenage girl and her mall experience this way: "We just look around, I guess. We just, like, it's social. We just socialize, you know?"

For more information about the study, call 817-257-7595 or e-mail Write to us at