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KAI RYSSDAL: The holiday shopping season has been a tough sell so far. Sales at department stores and some other big retailers have been lackluster at best. But as we head into the crucial last week before Christmas, Stacey Vanek Smith tell us some stores just might have found a way to help shoppers get their groove on.
STACEY VANEK SMITH: Used to be, a trip to the department store sounded something like this...
SOUND: Piano music of "Winter Wonderland."
But this year, things sound a little more like this ...
sound: "Hey, Mr. DJ ..."
It's a busy Saturday at an upscale mall in Los Angeles. Cusp -- a Nieman-Marcus-run chain for young women -- has a DJ playing in the store. A few steps away, at Bloomingdales, another DJ spins his stuff in the men's department. There's a DJ at make-up store Sephora, and another at the Mac store.
Russ Patrick heads up the Cusp stores for Neiman Marcus. They bring in DJs twice a month.
Russ Patrick: You can watch the customers walk across the street, walk from the other side of the mall because they see that there's something going on.
Marshal Cohen is a retail analyst for market research firm NPD Group. He says even traditional retailers are waking up to the fact that a major chunk of their business is coming from minors.
Marshal Cohen: The Department store, they couldn't even find their way out of a paper bag when it came to trying to market to the teen sector. That is the fastest growing segment in the department store world.
A lot of other worlds, too. Young consumers spent nearly $180 billion last year. And while most Americans are expected to spend about 2.5 percent less this holiday season, teens are expected to spend 2.5 percent more. Cohen says that's got retailers going all out to woo young shoppers.
Cohen: It creates a lot of challenges to really keep that consumer engaged.
But why DJs? Why not just pipe in the power-pop? Nieman Marcus' Russ Patrick says DJs create a kind of happening in the store, and act as atmosphere control.
PATRICK: Well, the best DJs are those that can really read the crowd, can be part of the shopping experience, are constantly tailoring the music to who's in the store at any given time.
Lee Dyson is spinning at The Gap. He runs Hey Mister DJ -- a group of L.A. DJs. Dyson says retail now makes up about 20 percent of his business and it's still growing. He says that's because good DJs do more than just spin records. They actually make sales.
LEE DYSON: You're always looking for clues, body-language, how they're picking clothes. Or you can watch to determine how long somebody's staying in a store. Ideally, if the music increases someone's time in the store by even 5 or 10 minutes because they're hearing some of their favorite songs, the likelihood of a purchase is higher.
Dyson says 80s music is a good bet when it comes to broad appeal. And the music approach seems to be working...
CUSTOMER 1: I think it just gets you in the shopping spirit.
CUSTOMER 2: You want to stay in the store longer if it's a good song.
Of course, most yougsters are with their parents. And all that loud music could cut the shopping day short, right?
CUSTOMER: Um, I don't shop with my parents. Sorry.
In Los Angeles, and feeling really old, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.