Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Target

When they were little, I used to buy a good bit of clothing for my nieces Molly and Caroline. By the time they were six or seven, I thought I might ask for their opinion before I placed an order. I pointed out a couple of darling (to me, anyway) little shorts-and-tops sets. The girls looked at me as if I were asking them if they’d like a dress that Laura Ingalls would have worn on wash day, or something from the Never In Style, Never Out of Style Amish Kids Catalog. “Oh, no, Moe,” they said. Within a second, they found the page that had the pink and purple sparkly unicorn shirts on it. Now we’re talking!

That was a while back now, and kids have apparently gotten even more fashion forward. And Target is using kids to figure out what clothing should go into their Cat & Jack line of clothing for children and babies.

I can guarantee that, when I was a kid, no retailer (or parent, for that matter) gave a pink and purple sparkly unicorn’s arse what a child thought about the clothing that was going on their back. You wore what they put in front of you. So there. But times have changed, and children are consumers, with preferences and desires every bit as potent (if not more so) as those of the grownups.

This ‘kids rule” practice is not, of course, universal.

I’m sure Prince George would rather be wearing a Batman tee-shirt than the stuffed shirts he sports for his public outings. And it won’t be long, I’m sure, before Princess Charlotte asks why she can’t wear the pink and purple sparkly unicorn shirt to Granny’s 100th birthday, rather than the prissy (yet completely darling) little smocked dress that looks like it’s been in the royal family since the good queen was a child in the 1920’s. Despite any preferences they may have in private, the little royals are generally photographed in British frumpery. Perhaps in private they get to jazz things up with bold stripes, neons, ankle boots, and graphic tees. (“My parents went to Buckingham Palace and all they got me was this lousy tee-shirt.”) But when they’re on display, the royal mites are fashion backward. So Target will not be trusting them to take part in a focus group they pulled together to opine on what Target should be putting on their shelves if they want the kids to put it on their backs.

And why not?

Anybody who’s been around young families knows that parents solicit their kids’ opinions about all kinds of once-adult decisions: where to go for dinner, what kind of car to buy, even what to wear. In keeping with the times, Target’s designers have been listening to kids, too, about 1,000 of them from the ages of 4 to 12—in their homes, online, at daylong fairs, and in focus groups—to create what could become one of the company’s biggest brands and maybe one of the country’s biggest kids’ brands. (Source: Bloomberg)

Out with the everyday ordinariness of the old, dependable children’s lines from Target. In with the “groovier cuts and colors.” All in an attempt to rev up demand and margins for clothing.

Once reimagined, these areas are expected to generate sales that will grow two to three times faster than the store’s other staples.

Until recently, there wasn’t a Target nearby, so I wasn’t all that familiar with the store. But I did get that their reputation was affordable chic of reasonable quality, which differentiated it from competitors like Walmart and K-Mart, which were known for affordable (style and quality be more or less damned).Then came The Recession.

As consumers traded down during the recession, Target did too. It focused on lower-priced, lower-quality goods rather than the high-concept clothes, teapots, and garlic presses it was known for. That decision brought it more directly in competition with Walmart, dollar stores, and Amazon.com. Trying to out-cheap them in a low-margin business proved a losing proposition.

So target found themselves in a hole, and it didn’t help them much when they had to stop digging themselves out of it to focus on the big Christmas Credit Card Hack of 2013, followed by a few lesser known fiascos.

And now they’re hoping to get their groove back with Cat & Jack.

Cat & Jack will still offer sparkles and glitter, pink and purple, frills and ruffles, and, at least at some point, kid-size butterfly wings and a long tulle skirt with glow-in-the-dark stars. The prints on Cat & Jack dresses won’t be wildly different from what’s been in stores, but they’ll be more sophisticated, the color combinations less typical. The polka dots will be bigger, the stripes neon. There will be a short-sleeve dress with boldly drawn flowers and leaves on a black background; another dress will have a pale pink sweatshirt on top and an orange tulle skirt. Boys will still get dinosaurs and astronauts on their T-shirts and slouchy pants with drawstring waists.

Cat & Jack is geared for a generation of kids that’s more collaborative than competitive. “They’re not about positivity that makes themselves feel good but someone else feel bad,” says Mandy Daneman, who conducts research for Target. She and her team interviewed hundreds of kids, dug into academic studies, and talked with companies such as Walt Disney and Nickelodeon. “The kids told us: I don’t want shirts that say, ‘I Win, You Lose.’ I want shirts that say, ‘We Got This,’ or, ‘Game On.’ ” The team changed a shirt from “Play to Win” to “Play for Fun.”

That’s good. I guess. In my day, we did without shirts that said anything. We just yelled stuff like “I Win, You Lose” at other kids.

Anyway, parents also get their say, and they nixed a shirt the kids like that said “OMG.”

It goes without saying that Target will be marketing to kids. And that some of the marketing will be “done” by kids themselves (ad copy, social media).

If you thought kid as consumer was tough to swallow, you’re really going to love kid as marketer.

I’m not buying any kids clothing these days, but I’m sure that, if it had come in pink and purple, my nieces would have glommed onto a “Dream Like a Unicorn” tee-shirt.


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