Expert Column: New Gender-busting Rules for Retailers

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Expert Column: New Gender-busting Rules for Retailers

By Dr. Lance B. Eliot, Interactions - 07/23/2015

At experiential marketing firm Interactions, we recently decided to take another look at the age-old question of the potential influence of gender on shopper behavior. The results appeared in our July 2015 Retail Perceptions report.

Our poll of U.S. shoppers indicated that prior assumptions are no longer true that males shop entirely differently from females, or vice versa -- any such earlier notions are quickly eroding; in fact, in many crucial respects, both males and females now tend to shop in the same ways.

Retailers that previously sought to appeal in-store with distinctly "masculine" displays to male shoppers and separately to female shoppers should rethink that outmoded strategy. The effort to divide by gender can backfire, alienating both men and women; additionally, it can bring about added costs to the retailer, due to the extra gender-specific effort that just won't pay off in the end.

Price and Communication

All that being said, how are the genders alike in their shopping behavior?

Both males and females reported that one of the most important factors for in-store and online shopping is price.

With the ups and downs of our economy, and the increasingly easy means of price comparison via smartphones, price is king. No matter what kinds of smoke and mirrors a retailer might try to employ in hiding its prices, males and females alike are going to focus on pricing. In the past, some retailers figured that female shoppers would instinctively buy on impulse and give only short shrift to price, while only males would scrutinize price. That's a nearly extinct notion. Price is at the forefront of shopper behavior, regardless of gender.

Another gender-breaking notion is that nearly the same percentage of male shoppers (56 percent) and female shoppers (60 percent) prefer to communicate with a retailer though a store associate rather than a mobile device. Retailers should shed any false notion that perhaps male shoppers are more prone to consult a mobile device than to ask a store associate (akin to the old stereotype that males won’t ask for directions). Both genders prefer a live store associate over an in-hand smartphone.

Retailers need to ensure that their store associates are well trained and versed in products and store layouts. Also, since store associates often tend to talk only with shoppers of the same gender, make sure to urge your employees to interact with both genders.

Vive le Differénce

In spite of the blurring distinctions between the genders, some differences still emerged in our survey results.

Male shoppers reported that they'll try competing brands for products before they make a purchase. This reinforces the notion that retailers should stock multiple brands, or else a male shopper might leave the store in search of other brands elsewhere.

Female shoppers reported they'll invite others to shop with them. Therefore, retailers should anticipate that female customers may have fellow shoppers in tow, and store associates would be wise not only to answer questions from female shoppers, but also to be ready to aid her companions.

Overall, retailers need to discard any old rules of thumb about gender shopping-related differences and recast their in-store and online practices to the new generation's gender-busting rules.