The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today about teen retailers such as Aeropostale now catering more to moms as opposed to simply focusing on the teens who wear their clothes. The story indicates that some teen retailers recognize a need to focus more on moms during this economic downturn, because the parents ultimately control the purse strings, and they have become more cautious about spending on high-priced clothes for their teen sons and daughters. Interesting, Abercrombie and Fitch indicates that they are making less of a shift toward focusing on moms. That firm will continue to be "all about the senses" with music and a general atmosphere that is much more focused on the teen than the parent. So, we have a clear divergence in strategies, which will make for an interesting horse race... which strategy will work best? It's unclear, of course, but I think there is a clear risk to targeting moms, which is that a brand can become "uncool" to teens very quickly. While focusing on parents may be useful during the economic downturn, there may be long term detrimental effects on the brand positioning.
There's a more general lesson here... retailers always need to be aware of who the actual decision-maker is when selling their wares, as opposed to the person(s) who will be using the products. Sometimes, gaining a better understanding of the consumer decision process can be very powerful. In the case of home improvement, for instance, Lowe's made much headway against Home Depot by targeting women, who often are the key decision-maker on home projects, even though the husband may be the one buying and using many of the construction materials to execute the project.