Give Your Site Kid Appeal

Children often decide where parents shop--and how long they stick around

The red dress with white polka dots and bloomers that Kimberly D. Majors saw online didn't excite her. But Majors, a U.S. Marine Corps master sergeant from Jacksonville, N.C., wasn't buying for herself. She was shopping for daughters Gabrielle, 2, and Janel, 4. And the girls loved what they saw. "Ooh" they shouted as they pointed to the dress on Gapkids.com. "We want that." So she dropped two of the $30 outfits into her virtual shopping cart. "For some reason, that dress struck a chord with the kids," Majors says.

Make no mistake, kids dig cybershopping. Sure, young children--from toddlers to preteens--aren't always proficient readers. And few, if any, have credit cards for online purchases. Yet they have clout. Some 84% of Netizens say they enjoy going online with their children, according to researcher Cyber Dialogue Inc. And many of those are "Web-wise Moms." Cyberstores, take note: These moms average 18 hours a week online and $62,500 in income, 27% higher than the typical Net consumer.

INFLUENTIAL.

  Some parents even let the kids do the driving. A study by researcher NFO WorldGroup Inc. found that three-fourths of parents who plan to shop online for their kids this fall will let the children participate: Nearly half allow kids to point and click their way across the Web, and 42% say their children suggest sites they should visit. "Kids play a huge role in what their parents are getting online," says Zain Raj, president of FCBi, the interactive marketing arm of ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding.

Yet many e-tailers aren't taking full advantage of that. Strangely, most neglect to incorporate basic features that attract kids: games, animation, flashy graphics, sound. Consider Guess. It's a popular clothing brand among kids, yet its Web site offers little that speaks to them. Guess.com is "all static content," says senior analyst Melissa P. Grimes of Cyber Dialogue. "There's nothing to engage children." Guess declined to comment. But it and other e-tailers might follow the lead of cereal makers: They decorate products with cartoons to attract kids in the shopping cart as parents cruise grocery aisles. The cyber-aisle is no different.

Some children's sites get it. Even though adults do the buying, Disney.com is a toddler's dream--filled with images of Mickey and other Disney characters and sounds of a xylophone. "Move the mouse, move the mouse," demand Majors' daughters, who like to visit the site several times a week. Disney's formula has made it the top kids' site on the Net, with 6.2 million unique visitors in August--five times the traffic of Nick Jr.com, its closest competitor. "We've created something special and unique: The integration of commerce for adults and entertainment for kids," says Kenneth F. Goldstein, managing director for Disney Online.

WISH LIST.

  This doesn't necessarily mean that every family-oriented e-tailer should remake itself into a noisy kids' site. For merchants selling children's products, though, a dab of color and creativity can certainly boost traffic. Target.com revamped its site this summer to appeal to the young. It features gyrating orange circles and disappearing squares to capture kids' attention. A "wish list" that lets children identify gifts they want and e-mail the items to parents has been added to boost sales during the upcoming holiday season. More than 100,000 users have signed up since the feature was launched in August, says Catherine A. David, general manager of Target.com.

Meanwhile, the site has watched its traffic jump from 2.4 million visitors in June, when the kid-friendly features were introduced, to 3.1 million visitors in August. "We recognize how big the role of up-and-coming shoppers is," David says.

With the holiday buying season around the corner, this may be a good time to inject a little kid-appeal into your site.

By Roger O. Crockett

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