Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 235
Customer Psychology Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Real Men and Shopping

A new study offers suggestions to attract and retain male customers in retail settings.

Take a few minutes today to watch the front door. Count the number of women and the number of men who come in. If you're like most retailers, the women will far outnumber the men.

The men who are in your store will usually fall into one of three categories of shopper: 1) Grab and go, 2) Wait and whine, and 3) Fear of the feminine tag. Grab and go shoppers spend little time in the store. They come alone, grab something they think they need, and buy it. Wait and whine shoppers are unnecessary for the shopping task. They push the cart or carry the bags. Before very long, their waiting turns into whining. Their female companions often cut short their shopping in deference to them. Fearful of the feminine tag shoppers are men who feel their masculinity is threatened by engaging in a task exclusively associated with women. They avoid the store altogether.

Wouldn't it be nice to recast the male role to include shopping? Wouldn't it be nice to count as many serious male shoppers coming into your store as you do female shoppers?

Cele Otnes, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, recently completed a 9-year study of male shopping behavior. She doesn't believe these stereotypes of male shopping reflect the actual men in our stores. She believes these stereotypes are dated. Her research demonstrated movement away from these images, and she believes that changing men into serious shoppers is a marketing strategy that savvy retailers will soon be adopting. Men are an untapped market, she feels.

Her research demonstrated that most men shop deliberately and pragmatically in order to achieve - to win. Success drives men's intentions. But, curiously, achieving success often requires men to engage in both male and female behaviors, like shopping. We live in a world where brute strength rarely carries the day. Intelligence and mental toughness are more often the necessary ingredients for success. And successful shopping is a form of success, often a way to demonstrate status.

To attract and retain men, Professor Otnes has these suggestions:

Promote the use of the internet among the males in your target market so they can complete search behaviors for products at your store from a distance. This allows them to use technology as a tool for achievement: they can identify the best value or the most feature-laden item in your store that meets their needs. Men love to use technology.

Give men a way to beat you in shopping. Allowing bargaining for the price is one way to do this. Encouraging waiting for the price to come down is another. Land's End offered an additional $10 credit toward already discounted new winter coats when customers traded in their used coats to their outlet stores. Levi offered $5 off on a new pair of jeans when an identical, worn out pair was brought in as a trade.

Follow the lead of bricks and clicks retailers, like GAP and Land's End, who promote the use of both their web sites and their stores. Customers visiting these web sites can visit virtual dressing rooms and assemble outfits. They can also check inventory at specific stores and arrange to have these items waiting for them when they visit the store. Place coupons on your web page that are redeemable for in-store purchases.

Offer men-only shopping events early in the evening to catch men after they finish work for the day. Offer a glass of wine and the company of other men. Make it a club-like atmosphere.

Offer personal shoppers for men who can guide them to the best values for the needs they express. Personal shoppers should not be older women, but young, well-informed men and women.

Place male oriented brochures and point-of-purchase displays in women's clothing sections. Position merchandise of special interest to men, like technology products, next to women's departments.

Professor Otnes believes these suggestions will help develop a relationship between men and those retailers who would like to increase their sales. It might as well be you.

Reference: Otnes, Cele, and Mary Ann McGrath (2001) Perceptions and Realities of Male Shopping Behavior. Journal of Retailing, 77, 111-137.

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