10/12/2012 03:01 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2012

E-Commerce Innovation: Driving Jobs in USA

I had the pleasure of attending the Huffington Post's "What's Working" Entrepreneurship Expo at the RNC last month. Working together in a bipartisan fashion, this group of social entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups from all over the United States upheld a common belief: Entrepreneurs can change the state and economic environment of our country by creating jobs. It was a wonderful forum where we exchanged ideas, discussed opportunities and shared innovations to help create jobs.

Speaking with my colleagues I was reminded of the story Len Baker, a partner at Sutter Hill Ventures, shared about his favorite innovator, Isaac Merritt Singer. We all know Singer as the inventor of the first commercially successful sewing machine. But, as Baker pointed out Singer's real "benefit to society was that he was the first person to sell to women." Singer's company also invented the installment plan and the trade-in -- true innovations.

While I love this story about innovation where thousands of manufacturing jobs were created, what struck me were the parallels to marketing my business today. Fast-forward 150 years from Singer's target market and there is a new generation of consumer that is just as revolutionary and untapped as women were in his day: tweens, or those aged 5 to 12. According to EMP Communications the tween girl market is a rapidly growing powerhouse of spenders and influencers with an estimated economic impact of $43 billion annually. And this consumer has more independence and financial impact than any previous generation. Tween girls are the new generation of shopper and have very different expectations of a commerce experience than today's shoppers. Tweens are not point and click shoppers. They are the American Idol generation and expect an engaging online experience that allows their voices to be heard. They want to be able to share their web activity with friends and to exert influence over the brands they love.

The idea for an online design-your-own-fashion studio came to me after my tween daughter asked me to help her design her own clothes. I loved the idea but lacked the skills necessary, so I founded FashionPlaytes, an e-commerce site for tween girls that allows them to design unique clothes and produce and ship to their homes.

Today more than 500,000 girls frequent and spend an average of an hour per visit on the site. Because we facilitate a community that provides a rich online experience for the girls we experience their marketing demands first hand. We quickly realized that marketing to tween girls was not as simple as emailing coupons and posting on social sites.

  • Tweens expect to directly engage with and influence the brands they love
  • Tweens want to share their brand activity with friends and family
  • Tweens want to explore online experiences and develop their social capital
  • Tweens expect a variety of ways to engage online

Clearly marketing to tween girls is tricky and just like Singer found in the 1800s when marketing to women, we must be innovative in marketing to this special consumer. Tween girls are not on Facebook, do not tweet and are not targets for email promotion. Therefore, providing relevant content and an experience that speaks directly to these girls is essential to acquiring them organically and keeping them engaged long term.

Tween girls are a demanding new consumer demographic with significant purchasing power. They expect to influence and interact with the brands they care about and they expect a personalized commerce experience. And growing up as digital natives they naturally expect to have the ability to interact and socialize with likeminded consumers within the commerce environment. We anticipate these core demands will become increasingly prevalent across their browsing and shopping habits and we can expect to see more brands adopt engagement and consumer opinion in their product development efforts.

In a new world where developing deep brand relationships is harder than ever companies need to constantly innovate. Knowing that tween girls expect to be engaged, entertained and enlightened while on we blended content, commerce and community to provide a rich experience for these first-time online shoppers. At FashionPlaytes we call it engagement driven commerce. And, like Amazon, eBay, Groupon, Zazzle and others we'll continue to innovate e-commerce, reaching each new generation of consumers and fueling jobs in the process.