Firms scurry for ride on e-com wave

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By Mike Drach

People say kids these days have a lot more money than they used to, and plenty of on-line businesses exist solely to take advantage of that.

It was only been in the past five years that companies have taken notice of two significant trends: the increased spending power of high-school and university-aged consumers, and the amount of time young people spend on the Internet.

Many businesses are now scrambling to establish a strong Web presence, one that entices young people to spend.

“The youth market now has the highest level of discretional spending,” says Scott DeVeber, a sales and marketing agent at Infopreneur, a Toronto-based Web-solutions company. “They control a vast amount of money, and they control the decisions of spending that money.”

That amounts to about $14-billion a year, according to Statistics Canada. Young people also spend about as much time on the Net as they do watching television, a statistic that has retailers around the world salivating. Studies show the more time people spend on-line, the more likely the medium will become a central part of their lifestyle.

Brad Farrell, vice-president of e-marketing at Microforum, which designs Websites and e-commerce search engines, says the best bet for most companies is to establish a site that introduces on-line consumers to their products.

“Our job is to drive consideration and make you actively aware of a brand,” Farrell says.

Microforum was the driving force behind Ford Canada’s recent campaign to attract youth by offering rebates to university grads. A section of the automaker’s Web site features, among other things, a “virtual tattoo parlour” complete with tribal and corporate designs.

The main function of such features is to build loyalty at a younger age. However, market analysts have found that branding alone does not mean much to the 18- to 24-year-old demographic. “Youth today are fairly cynical, and can readily spot any cheesy, thinly veiled marketing efforts,” DeVeber says.

When it comes to reaching youths, Nick Barbuto, an assistant media planner at Cossette Communication Marketing, says the most effective tactics almost always involve freebies and immediate rewards.

“At the university level, people are more cynical, but not afraid of technology,” says Barbuto, himself just 21 years old. “If they do have money, they tend to impulse buy. The only strategy is to be in the right place at the right time.”

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