Once again, it's time to let retailers and mall developers know what's on shoppers' minds. And this year may well be a wake-up call for businesses to think more about the needs of some demographic groups that haven't been prominent on the radar screen.

Retail Traffic interviewed a range of shoppers from different geographic regions and demographic segments. Although this is by no means a scientific examination of what different shoppers want and how to meet their needs, we tried to include a diverse group. For example, Barbara Shulman belongs to the baby boom generation of women who in recent years have been somewhat neglected by many apparel stores in favor of the anorexic younger counterparts. Retailers are starting to turn their attention to this cohort — and it's a good thing: Boomer women are reaching their peak in terms of income and asset accumulation, according to Martha Barleta, author of Marketing to Women. Women over 45 earn the highest weekly median pay of all female workers and in many households they control the spending.

Irma Marmolejo is a member of another group that retailers can't afford to ignore: the exploding Hispanic American population. Hispanic Americans represented $700 billion in consumer spending last year — nearly 9 percent of the total U.S. disposable personal income ($8.02 trillion), according to the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. What's more, Hispanic Americans' disposable income grew in 2003 at a compounded annual growth rate of 7.5 percent. That outpaces overall U.S. disposable income, which only grew at 2.8 percent last year.

Seniors are another fast-growing segment of the population. Many are more affluent than previous generations. They also live longer and remain healthier and more active. With sufficient leisure time and assets, many, like Diane Davis, remain regular shoppers well into their 70s and 80s.

Meanwhile, men have become bigger consumers than they used to be. Personal care and fashion products have never been more marketed or available to men than they are now. Indeed this has spawned a whole new consumer category: the metrosexual. Whether it's fashionable clothing, grooming products or the latest gadgets, men like Jaison Robinson are consuming more of a wider array of goods.

Teens have hardly been overlooked in today's mall. Until they can drive, and even after, shopping centers are one of their main places for congregating and socializing. The same holds true for 'tweens, ages 8 to 14, who, like Chandler Richards, are addicted to shopping. With attitudes, access to information and sophistication well beyond their years, and purchasing power to match, these young consumers — a population 29 million strong according to the 2000 census — will spend an average of $1,294 in 2004, MarketResearch.com reports, for an aggregate total of $38 billion. Add to this the nearly $126 billion parents will spend on their 'tweens by year-end, a number that's expected to balloon to $150 billion by 2007, and retailers can easily grasp the importance and potential of this market.

We introduce you to the shoppers:
Pam Black

Diane Davis

Southwest Florida
Retiree
Age: 70

A denizen of Florida's retirement community, Diane Davis prefers individual stores to shopping malls. Like other retirees, this grandmother of two depends largely on income from her investments. When the market was down, she shopped less, but these days, she's a little more flush.

She typically shops for food once a week and fell in love with the new upscale Fresh Market in a local mall. “They have fabulous meats, prepared foods like spit-roasted chicken and pork roast, lots of cheeses and goodies you can't get anywhere else,” she says. Most of the time, though, she goes to Kash n' Karry, which is more conveniently located, although for greater variety in fruits and vegetables, she might go to Publix. Diane usually keeps her pantry overflowing. But less so lately, she says, because “during Hurricane Charley, I lost everything in my freezers and refrigerators. And it put a damper on my wanting to restock.”

For clothing, Diane eschews department stores like Dillard's and Macy's because she feels she can get better prices and good quality at Marshall's, and at TJ Maxx, where she shops about once a month. “You get an extra 5 percent or 10 percent off on Mondays if you're a senior citizen, and I buy clothes for my grandchildren there.” Like others in her age group, she's generally sensitive to sales. But sometimes, Diane will head for upscale Saks and Eileen Fisher. She recently was thrilled to get an $800 Emmanuel Ungaro purse for $140 on sale at Saks. “It just leapt off the counter and into my cart,” she says.

Even though she is penny-wise, Diane shops more for pleasure than necessity. “It perks me up if I'm down,” she says. “I don't really need anything.” She also shops at Costco, less these days, she says because you have to buy in such quantity. However, she does like Costco for paper products, prescriptions drugs, and surprisingly, apparel. “They have wonderful bargains on clothes there,” she says. “I noticed today they had wonderful Liz Claiborne T-shirts.”

But she says as she gets older, parking far from the store and walking long distances is increasingly a problem. “I hate to go to Wal-Mart because the parking lot is so packed and you have to walk so far,” she says. She doesn't hesitate when asked what's her No. 1 request of retailers: “Chairs! For old ladies like me to sit down in,” Diane says. “They would probably sell more, because shoppers could take a break and go on instead of tiring out and going home.”
Pam Black

Chandler Richards

Connecticut Student
Age: 13

To avoid the censure of the Wilton High School fashion police, freshman Chandler Richards dutifully explains, “I go shopping with my friends at least once a week.” She describes her style as “a little preppy, a little trendy,” and relates that few kids in her high school go out on a fashion limb. “Everyone wears Abercrombie, J.Crew, and American Eagle. A lot end up wearing the exact clothes as someone else on the same day, and sometimes it's annoying.”

Since the humble row of boutiques in the center of her small Connecticut town is not exactly a retail haven, Chandler and friends travel upward of 45 minutes to nearby Westchester, N.Y, and shop all day at the mall. “Because we drive far, we stay longer.”

Next to spending quality time with her pals, what Chandler likes most about shopping is that first look at a new line. “It's really fun seeing all the new stuff they have.”

And if retailers want her attention, she explains, they have to be loud. “Color is really important. Bright, bright colors get me to go in. I really like the Gap commercials. I think they're really cool.” But the buck always stops at Abercrombie & Fitch because “their jeans fit me really well.”

Chandler, who almost never leaves a mall empty-handed, says that her parents foot the bill. “Sometimes they think I spend too much, so I'm probably going to get a job in a boutique or something when I'm older. It would be cool to work in a store, and I'd have more money for clothes.”

Despite her frequent spending, Chandler doesn't think she devours couture as voraciously as some of her classmates. “I only buy something if I really, really like it.” Her most recent big-ticket purchase was a pair of personalized Nike Shocks, retailing at about $120.

In her quest to transcend the polo shirt-and-jeans monotony that dominates her school, Chandler spices up her wardrobe with pink or purple chandelier earrings, and frequently uses brightly colored ribbons as belts. Although she's only 13 years old, she's already learned valuable lessons in retail restraint. “I have to think twice before I buy everything because sometimes I get home from the mall and look at something I bought and I'm like, ‘Wow. What a waste.’”
Molly Knight

Jaison Robinson

Long Beach, California
Sports Reporter
Age: 24

“For me, it's all about the experience,” says Jaison Robinson of his holistic shopping criteria. “Since I can get a black jacket anywhere, the atmosphere of the store and the salespeople are more important than the clothes.”

Living on the outskirts of L.A., Jaison never has to travel more than 20 miles to find that perfect black jacket. The six-foot, four inch former collegiate water polo player outfits his “upscale casual” style with monthly trips to Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic and Hugo Boss. “I don't want to be too dressy, but presentation is a big part of everything I do, so I want to look nice.”

Although when outfitted in a sweater and slacks, he runs that risk when hanging out with his wrinkled jeans and flip-flop wearing friends, Jaison stresses the importance of making a good impression. “I always try to set the bar with my personal appearance,” he relates.

A self-described PC man, Jaison was recently persuaded to purchase an Apple G5 Powerbook (retailing around $1,600) after being lured into a sleek Apple store. “I wasn't even thinking about getting a Mac but they had hip-hop music playing and a lot of young salespeople talking about cool features and that totally sold me. I had a lot of fun in that store.”

Jaison says that unfortunately, men's stores often underestimate the importance of a strong, stylish sales team. “I'm a guy and I really don't have a clue about fashion,” he explains. “Knowledgeable, polite salespeople wearing hip clothes can pretty much talk me into buying anything.”

A sports reporter for a community newspaper, Jaison says prices are important. When he's not working, he travels widely and lists the WeberGrill in Chicago as his favorite restaurant. In L.A., he prefers fish restaurants to fast food joints.

He also spends his free time as an actor and model.
Molly Knight

Barbara Shulman

Fort Worth, Texas
Application Specialist
Age: 50

Barbara Shulman is a retailer's dream. A resident of Fort Worth, Texas, she and her husband have a combined annual income of more than $200,000. She is now redecorating her home of three years. “Gosh, [shopping] is what I do,” Barbara says. “They could make it a sport in the Olympics and I would win.”

She is part of the “consumer sweet spot” that Martha Barletta, author of Marketing to Women calls baby boomer women over 50.

Barbara's shopping habits sound sweet to retailers. She spends at least three or four days a week hitting the stores. And, although she travels a lot for her job as an application specialist for GE Healthcare, she likes malls, especially Dallas's famous Galleria.

There she can find all the high-end retailers she enjoys such as Nordstrom and Dillard's. Chico's is another one of Barbara's favorite stores. “Chico's is good because you get a lot of personal assistance,” she says. “In department stores, you don't get it. There's no one around half the time.” She also feels Chico's is designed for grown-up women who aren't into midriff-baring tops and micro-minis.

Mature women like Barbara tend to be smarter consumers. After a lifetime of shopping, she knows how to maneuver a cart. “I don't buy many impulse items anymore,” she says. “I think about it before I buy. I buy better quality stuff when it comes to clothes.”

Retailers need a little more finesse when marketing to boomer women like Barbara. For one thing, they need to provide clothes larger than size 6. The average American woman is a size 14. Plus, simple touches like using older models in ads could pay off.

And it's a good time to pay attention. Like Barbara, many mature women are empty nesters who have extra time and energy and income for shopping. With both of her sons out of the house, Barbara spends less time at the supermarket and at back-to-school sales.

Her favorite thing to make now is reservations. She goes out to eat at least three times a week. One of her favorite restaurants is the Cheesecake Factory. “The first time I went there I thought it was just cheesecake, but they have a fabulous menu,” says Barbara.

When she does need to buy food for home, Barbara likes upscale markets like Central Market, which is a small Texas chain. “I like Albertson's because it is close by,” Barbara says. “But Central Market is where I really like to go.”
David Koch

Irma Marmolejo

New York City
Storeowner
Age: 40

“I think I notice advertisements more than most people because I advertise,” says Irma Marmolejo referring to promotions for her East Village food and coffee shop. “It's important to have fliers and a Web site because it brings the most customers.”

The Pueblo, Mexico, native moved to New York 25 years ago and worked in the neighborhood eatery for 12 years before buying it in 2001. Since taking over, Irma has blended excellent food (“people like the chicken mole burritos the best,” she says) with equally good service. “I know a lot of my customers,” she explains. “I see a lot of the same people every day.”

Because she and her son, Jose, 23, and two additional employees work with food seven days a week, Irma rarely dines out. “We maybe go out once every two weeks,” she says. “It's nice to be at home when I'm not here at the shop.”

A mother of three, Irma regularly shops at Fine Fair Groceries two blocks from her home. And though she recently moved to the East Village from Queens, she still considers the Queens Center mall her favorite shopping venue, and says she much prefers traveling 45 minutes to shop where she's comfortable than seek out retail centers close to her new home. “They have a Macy's, and I like that. I like the perfumes and I like the clothes,” she says. “They also have an Old Navy.”

She praises Macy's customer service. “The ladies at the perfume counter are nice, and it's important for stores to be nice.” And says her son, who often goes shopping with her, can't resist the electronics stores. “He buys Spanish and hip-hop CDs” she says, “and plays them in the store.”

Irma says shopping often reminds her of how lucky she is to be her own boss. “It's nice to work for yourself.”
Molly Knight