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Youthful Life at the Mall

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Since the invention of the shopping mall, it has loomed large in teenagers' lives -- not just as a retail venue but as a center of social life. A new report by Arbitron and Scarborough Research (the latter a cousin of AdweekMedia in the Nielsen family) looks at what 12-17-year-olds do at the mall and at how the recession has altered their outlook there.

An early round of polling for the study, in the fourth quarter of last year, confirmed that shopping is just one of the things luring 12-17s to the mall.  When asked to cite the activities they engage in "very often" there, 71 percent included "shop," while 57 percent said "eat," 49 percent "socialize" and 40 percent "be entertained." That pattern is reflected in the answers when kids were asked to list items they'd bought there within the three months prior to being queried. Among girls who'd bought something, clothing was tops (cited by 86 percent), but beverages came next (58 percent), putting that category ahead of bath/beauty supplies (53 percent) and footwear (51 percent). Clothing also led among the boys (65 percent), with CDs/DVDs just ahead of beverages (54 percent vs. 51 percent).

Whatever else they do at the mall, kids can't help but encounter marketing ploys. Many said they notice poster displays (91 percent), hanging ad banners (85 percent) and sampling (77 percent). Fewer notice promotional events (58 percent), TV/video ads (57 percent) and inter-active displays/kiosks (48 percent).

The economy is, as you'd guess, taking its toll on the kids' engagement with the mall. Thirty-seven percent said they're going there less often than they had six months ago. An even larger number of them, 43 percent, reported spending less on their most recent mall trip than on a typical jaunt there six months earlier-though 14 percent said they spent more on the recent trip.

When they do go to the mall, many of the 12-17s are intent on stretching their dollars. Seventy-five percent agreed that "discounts on things I buy at the mall are more important to me than they used to be"; 52 percent "choose to shop at less-expensive stores than I used to"; and 48 percent "use more coupons at the mall than I have in the past."