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Examining the Shopping Learning Curve Between Men and Women

Examining the Shopping Learning Curve Between Men and Women

Men and women are different in many ways, from basic biology to the way they’re socialized into certain behavior patterns. This is just as applicable to the way they shop, and thus, the way you should market to them. The psychology of shopping is important, of course, but for the best perspective on the differences between the male and female path to purchase, you also need to keep something else in mind: the learning curve between men and women when it comes to shopping. Today’s post will examine this difference in experience, contextualize its place in the shopper psychology, and overview the impact this should have on your marketing.

Shopping Is a Learned Skill

While some of the critical differences between men and women are innate, such as brain function, many gender roles are socially defined. This defines behavior and informs perception, which reinforces the gender role like a cycle unless disrupted. For instance, in the 1950’s, men were breadwinners who worked all day at the office, while women stayed home and were responsible for a variety of things, including shopping. Men were more time-starved, and women had more leisure in terms of their time to shop. This resulted in the perception that men dislike shopping and women enjoy shopping while also informing shopping behavior — men would want to be succinct in their experience, and women would want to browse. Some would even trace this back farther to when humans were hunters/gatherers. Men would hunt while women would gather, and that gender role has carried down through the ages to the way people shop now.

In this light, it’s important to understand that shopping is as much a skill that is learned as it is a habit that is learned. That’s because the act of regularly making purchases is a repetitive behavior which leads to positive and negative experiences and results. This, in turn, affects the next time they shop. Spending too much or ending up with an inferior product are mistakes customers usually don’t want to repeat, so the next time they shop, they’ll make different choices. Eventually, they learn which store offers the best prices and qualities and which brands they can trust. This is where shopping as a habit becomes important — because women do the shopping more often (i.e., $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, and responsible for purchasing: 51% of consumer electronics, 60% of automobiles, 94% of home furnishings) they learn to be better at it. This leads to more positive and rewarding experiences, which in turn tends to make shopping a pleasurable experience that they’re likely to want to share, either with friends in person or on social media.

All this being said, gender roles are starting to break down. It pays to know the trends in your customers’ behavior, otherwise, you might miss the fact that many times, men take more time to shop. The fact that they don’t have skill shopping — and thus don’t necessarily shop with a full understanding of what they want or need — means that they end up spending a half hour longer to shop each week than women, and they even visit more stores than women do each week. The result may be a bigger purchase as well — in one Birchbox case study, when men found something they liked, they tended to buy six or more of that one thing.

There’s a Difference Between Learning to Shop and Shopping Psychology

How men and women use shopping as a skill is obviously interrelated to the underlying psychology of shopping. The shopping skill can be considered as the conscious choices a customer makes, while shopping psychology is the subconscious choices. For example, a customer might compare the price and quality of a shirt first (shopping as skill) and then feel the fabric and try it on, which both increases their sense of ownership and reveals how the shirt makes them feel (shopping psychology). Taking both approaches in understanding consumer behavior will give you a more holistic perspective.

You should also consider the fact that while different levels of skill lead to different shopping behaviors, shopping psychology utilizes the same tactics to encourage the same results by using different variables. For example, using a certain kind of scent in your store may increase sales of particular types of products: masculine scents increase sales of men’s products, feminine scents increase sales of women’s products, and gender neutral scents (e.g., pumpkin) increase sales of directly related products (e.g., candles, pumpkin flavored lattes).

Factors of Influence

Here are a few ways that both the skill and the psychology exert influence over consumer behaviors in-store:

  • Dwell time: How much time does a customer spend browsing in your store? Men may be spending less time there since they tend to shop with a mission, and you’d need to influence them to stay longer to consider more purchases. Women may be spending more time browsing, and you’d want to enhance that experience to encourage up-sells and cross-sales. To do either, you need to utilize psychological tactics to capture their attention, make them feel valued, and make them feel comfortable.
  • Interactions: Engaging with a customer at the right moment in the right way can have a huge impact: 55% of men and 52% of women purchased a product they hadn’t heard of because a store associate recommended it, and another 67% of men and 64% of women bought additional items because of an associate’s recommendations. Of course, it pays to know what your customers specifically prefer: 44% of men and 39% of women feel mobile alerts for the store they’re in at the time would improve the in-store experience. Perhaps men favor the assistance more in either form because they’re a little more behind women in terms of shopping as a skill.
  • Emotions: It’s thought that 90% of purchase decisions are made subconsciously specifically due to emotion rather than information. That means no matter what conscious plan a customer has, if you can inspire the right emotions, you might make a sale you wouldn’t have otherwise. This may be achieved through visual marketing, but it can also be successfully achieved through atmosphere. It’s generally held that women are more likely to make emotion-fueled decisions, perhaps thanks to the fact that they’re a little farther ahead on shopping as a skill.
  • Atmosphere: Scent, sound, colors, and lighting can have a huge psychological impact on customer mood and whether or not they feel comfortable or like they belong. In general, clean scents, light colors, clear lighting, and familiar music are all positive, but you can also gear these toward specific genders and the lifestyle goals they want to achieve. For instance, Abercrombie & Fitch uses dim lighting with spotlights on displays, loud music, and masculine scents to attract young men that want to be cool and edgy.

How This Should Impact Marketing

When marketing to men, you want to provide succinct data that will help them make a purchase decision. Clear signage in stores will probably make them more comfortable, and having helpful associates will both make for a smoother in-store experience by making it a faster process and increase the likelihood of buying new products or more than they went in for. Masculine imagery and scents will improve the sale of men’s products.

When marketing to women, making them feel valued is key. Appeal to their emotions, because they’re already savvy about brand and price choices. Make it easier for them to share their shopping experience with friends to increase sales, whether that means the offers you send out encourage bringing friends, or that social sharing is enhanced (e.g., Snapchat filters).

The lines between the genders are blurring, but there are still significant differences between the way men and women shop. Understanding the learning curve between men and women and the underlying psychology of shopping will help you develop a stronger marketing strategy. Be sure to use the tips and insights we’ve mentioned here to evaluate the way you’re approaching each kind of shopper.