Men buy, women shop

  • Opinion
  • October 15, 2015
  • Juanita Neville-Te Rito
Men buy, women shop
Image: Kerryn Smith

Anyone in my close-knit circle of friends or family will tell you I have a shopping problem.

It is well documented by a number of credible sources including Visa, Myer, numerous retailer loyalty programmes and Fly Buys. I can’t pinpoint the exact date when it started but I do remember a few significant early purchases in my life.

At the tender age of eight I was on holiday in regional Queensland with close family friends and I boldly spent my entire holiday money on a beautiful pink cotton sweatshirt which had maroon and white fabric paint detail of a polar bear, igloo and snow. It was a whopping $15 from KMart , a bucket of money in the early eighties for an eight year old. Despite my blowout, I then spent two hours scouring every other store on the high street seeing if there was a better alternative (if you can imagine a one-horse town having a high street).

Then there was the time I dropped a cool $300 as a university student on a Country Road peacoat -  much to the disgust of my father. He said I was a disgrace, and what the hell was I going to do with a bloody wool coat in Queensland? A bit of a theme here.

Today, if you asked my children how I shop, they would tell you that a trip to quickly pop in and get something might end up in a seven-hour stint trawling the malls. I am also renowned for spending three hours on one floor of Century 21 in New York. I am the ultimate shopper and I have a fear of missing something new, something exciting, something different, a bargain. Genuine FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Not only am I the ultimate shopper, I am a woman, and that, in the world of retail at least, means I am special. Women are happy to meander through sprawling clothing and accessory collections or detour through a shoe department. They are happy to spritz a perfume sample on themselves on their way up to the supermarket, maybe making a purchase. For men, shopping is a mission. Something specific. They are out to buy a targeted product and retreat from the situation as quickly as possible.

Numerous studies including “Men Buy, Women Shop,” by Wharton’s Retail Initiative, found that women react more strongly than men to personal interaction with shop assistants. Men are more likely to respond to the practical aspects of the experience — such as the availability of parking, whether the item they came for is in stock, and the length of the checkout line. This suggests women are more invested in the shopping experience on multiple levels, while men are mission-focused – get in, get out. Women may even have higher emotional expectations of their shopping experience.

This has implications for retailers when they are planning their approach to attracting, engaging and retaining female versus male shoppers, and how they define their experience for the different shopping journeys.

The genders differ in their perspectives, motives, rationales, and actions, at least when it comes to shopping. These differences have been debated as Mars versus Venus, nature versus nuture; but everything from advertising communication and media channels, product and packaging design, store layout and sales training should be designed to appeal to these differences.

Among the surveys and experiments designed to discover more about how men and women shop, one example springs to mind. It was well documented by business management guru Tom Peters.  

The story goes something like this... A man and a women were taken to a typical US mall and given the same brief: “Go to Gap and buy a pair of black pants.” There were no other instructions, restrictions or conditions. So off they went to complete the task - with starkly different results.

The man’s path to purchase was direct. He took six minutes to go straight to Gap, and purchase a pair of pants at a cost of $33. The woman, however, spent three hours and 26 minutes visiting nearly every other store, racking up a cost of $876 in total.

When I look at the physical journey mapping I completely get it. The woman’s pattern has many points of interest on her path. Had it been me, I would likely also have had a comfort break and a sit down with a coffee to peruse the photos I had taken while shopping to recall the opportunities or ideas I didn’t want to miss. My journey might also contain a phone call to another location to get a size check, and perhaps a posting on social media to get comments on a product (or an enabler to support my “yet to be made decision” in favour of the said product).

In the experiment, the man completed his mission while the woman went on a quest. She was looking for the pants which represented the best value, the best fit for her, the best fabric, the right value offer, and perhaps picked up the rest of her outfit and accessories along the way. She shopped in the hope of finding the perfect solution. He found the best workable solution and got out of there.

I have read many studies and opinions that suggest that this goes back to gatherers versus hunters. Women are gatherers. Men are hunters. Women walk into a store and scan. Men look for a specific location. Ergo women focus on the experience and men focus on achieving the mission.

So what does this mean for retailers trying to get an edge in a highly competitive landscape? How do you integrate this into your thinking? 

There are a few clues that can help you develop strategies to engage the sexes in a battle for their dollar.

Men generally shop alone. Men seldom compare prices. Men don’t care if the item is on sale. Men don’t care about the colour. Men sometimes compare quality, but usually only when it involves tools. Retailers catering to men understand these inclinations and focus marketing on product specifications and features, efficient payment processes and clear navigation.

Women typically seek more interaction, more eye contact, more support and more collaboration in the buying process. Therefore, authentic and genuine help and sales assistance can be incredibly engaging. Many women are bargain hunters and will be attracted like magpies to shiny things when presented with a compelling sales proposition, rewards points or coupon offers. Curating a range and being able to demonstrate good/better/best can also assist in their decision-making process.

Interestingly, ecommerce shopping behaviours statistics don’t show such disparity in behaviours. When they are shopping online, men and women are very similar with a few standouts.

Women are more likely to pay attention to marketing emails. Men are more like to find a product when “surfing around” online which suggests that paid search advertising and improving SEO (Search Engine Optimising) when men are searching or reading about related or competing products could be a great investment to ensure your products and website shows up when they are actively searching.

For women, emails do get results. Just make sure they are relevant and engaging. Providing a good pop of inspiration and taking the woman on a ‘how to buy’ journey will be more authentic than selling at her.

So what type of shopper are you? How do you make decisions about your what you are going to buy and from where? How long does it take you? Do you suffer from FOMO?

I read a study which has a great line in it: “A woman’s approach to shopping is very much part of who she is; it is part of her DNA. The way a woman shops when she is 18 years old is the same way she is going to shop when she is 43 years old. It is a lifelong mindset.” This insight was unexpected in the study, as most observers expected women’s shopping habits to change as they grew older.

So what does this mean for me, Mrs FOMO? Well if my last shopping expedition for boots is any indication it goes something like this…Covet boots on Facebook, post and ask friends for comments, try on the same pair three separate times at three different Kate Sylvester stores over three weeks. Miss the 20 percent off sale so go in search of perfect boots on international websites. Miss boots in size 39 in correct khaki colour so continue search, trying on 22 more pairs of boots. Buy two pairs which are twice the price of the original coveted pair; black heels; black flats; two pairs of jeans; new clothes for kids; blue spatula; new duvet cover; three bottles of magnesium on sale…

This story was originally published in NZ Retail magazine issue 739, August / September 2015.

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