Nation & World

Online shopping on the rise among children

Back-to-school is peak direct-to-kids marketing period

Bloomberg

An employee pulls a pallet jack carrying plastic crates containing online orders at the Amazon.com fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J.
Bloomberg An employee pulls a pallet jack carrying plastic crates containing online orders at the Amazon.com fulfillment center in Robbinsville, N.J.

Children and preteens are more connected to the internet than ever before, which means retailers are looking for new ways to market — and sell — directly to young shoppers on their phones, tablets and laptops.

Gone are the days of blanket television ads, marketing experts say. Instead, companies are flocking to Snapchat, YouTube Kids and other mobile apps to reach children with personalized messages.

Nearly half of 10- to 12-year-olds have their own smartphones, according to Nielsen. By the time they’re teenagers, 95 percent of Americans have access to a smartphone.

“Kids are shopping on their phones and influencing much more of their families’ spending,” said Katherine Cullen, director of retail and consumer insights for the National Retail Federation. “As a result, retailers are paying a lot more attention to pint-sized customers.”

Back-to-school season is peak time for direct-to-children marketing.

Brands such as Five Star, which makes binders and folders, and Red Bull, the energy drink maker, have released new back-to-school “filters” on Snapchat, while clothing chain Justice is advertising in-store fashion shows on its app.

Families are expected to spend an average $685 per household on clothing, shoes and other items for school-aged children in the coming weeks, according to the National Retail Federation.

But advocacy groups say marketing to children directly on their smartphones — where companies can collect data on users and tailor ads to specific consumers — also raises a number of concerns, not just about privacy but also about the kind of influence those ads may have on young children.

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Snapchat — where nearly 1.5 million children age 11 and under have active accounts, even though the social media platform requires users be at least 13 — has emerged as a holy grail for retailers in search of young consumers. That is especially true, the company says, during back-to-school seasons, where last year users spent an extra 130 million hours using the platform to chat with friends and connect with popular brands such as Vans, Hollister and Michael Kors.

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