This is the eighth article in a series about similarities and differences between men and women.
Q: What are the differences in shopping habits between men and women?
A: All the information in this article was written by entrepreneur and retired corporate executive Michael Lewis. He writes on business management, personal investment, and the economy. Although whether or not differences between sexes results from nature or nurture continues to be controversial. Men and women differ in motives, rationales, perspectives, and actions. Companies have adapted advertising styles, media, messages, product designs, sales training, customer service, and store layouts to appeal specifically to one sex or the other. Failure to address the needs and wishes of genders can have financial ramifications for retailers.
Retailers have the following goals:
• Lure shoppers
• Make them stay longer in the store
• Influence their buying decisions
• Turn them into return customers
Whether and how men and women differ has been controversial for many years. Many scientists fear that perceived differences between sexes have caused discrimination and unfair treatment with the assumption that one gender has qualities the other does not have. The observable differences between male and female brains do not reflect a superiority of one gender over the other.
Researchers can figure out how people think. Stereotyping males or females individually is next to impossible. However, retailers can recognize the general patterns of each sex and design products to appeal to one sex or the other.
Men and women are capable of attaining equal intellectual performances, but there are some differences between the brains of males and females. Women have a thicker bridge of nerve tissue connecting the right and left sides of their brains, thus facilitating women using both sides of their brains to solve problems. Men use the left sides of their brains predominately to solve problems. Men have larger brains than women, about 10 percent larger, but women have more nerve endings and connections.
Men and women utilize different areas of their brains to solve tasks. Women use their larger, better organized cerebral cortex to accomplish tasks, whereas men depend on their larger proportion of grey matter in their left brain hemispheres to solve problems. Consequently, women are generally better at identifying and controlling their emotions. Men are more problem or task focused. The differences enable retailers to attract particular customers by coordinating market messages, product features, advertisements, layouts, displays, and customer service.
Understanding that habits drive most buying decisions and consumer behavior, companies focus on initial buying decisions to get an advantage before habits get established. The first step for merchandisers is to stimulate a need. They motivate customers to buy products that will make them feel safer, healthier, wealthier, or more attractive. Such is the logic behind coupons, special sales, and discounts. People going through major life crises are vulnerable to new approaches because they often don’t notice or care. However, retailers notice and play to people’s vulnerabilities such as during times of divorce or death.
Third parties influence others, such as friends, social peers, or authority figures. Jonah Berger, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, states that products catching on or not catching on is neither random nor luck. He claims that at least half of all purchasing decisions are made by word-of-mouth because that is considered the most trustworthy form of advertising, even when that is not true. Retailers consequently seek out customers and celebrities as spokespersons for products.
Other influences on a person’s decision of what to buy include package appeal and method of convenience of payment. Since subconscious factors can exert more influence over one’s decision than price or quality, people need to understand their motives in order to make better choices. A more rational shopping process usually ensures a successful result. Such a process includes price differences, durability, quality, convenience or utility.
In spite of nearly equal numbers of men and women, Bloomberg states that women make 85 percent of consumer purchases in this country and supposedly influence more than 95 percent of the purchases of total goods and services. Women are considered more sophisticated shoppers than men. Women take longer to make decisions when shopping. Men prefer to buy a workable product rather than to keep looking, whereas women prefer to keep looking for a better product.
A study from 2007 claims women fall into four mindsets that dictate their respective patterns in shopping. “Social catalysts” are more than one-third of women. These groups are planners, organizers, are proud of their friendship status and consider themselves the experts in their social group. “Natural hybrids” are slightly less than one-third of women, and this group seems to function in an ongoing state of equilibrium. They operate on the principle of a time to spend and a time to save. They tend to buy classic items that are long-lasting and not trendy.
The group of “Content responsibles” treats shopping as a chore or errand. Similar to most men, these groups are responsible, loyal, practical and task-oriented. About one-fifth of women fall into this category. Group four is called “Cultural artists,” and represents a little more than one out of ten shoppers. These women are the group that tries different things and starts new trends. This group is the one most companies seek out to try out new products. Women could benefit from prioritizing purchases, using more online purchasing, and resisting impulse buying.
Men prefer to get in, get what they need, and then get out. They are generally not comparison shoppers and will pay more for what they want rather than spend more time running down bargains. Men usually shop alone, seldom compare prices, don’t care about color. Stores cater to men by focusing on marketing, inventory depth, technical features, and efficient payment procedures.
Male shoppers would do better by being more price conscious and less time-sensitive. According to an iProspect study, 70 percent of affluent men shop online regularly and employ the shopping habits used by women in real shopping stores. Some studies state that, online, men are more apt than women to research and compare products. Finally, men could do better by learning to shop for future needs. Men tend to buy when the need is immediate, limiting the ability to compare prices, buy with discounts, or utilize off-season sales.
•Next week’s article discusses how male and female differences complicate male/female relationships.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.