When you hear the words "men" and "shopping" in the same sentence, it's not unlikely that the image that immediately comes to mind is one of a bored man trailing his wife through the grocery store, or perhaps looking supremely uncomfortable and doing his best to not make eye contact with anyone while holding her purse in the corner of a department store.
Both of these scenarios paint such a woeful picture one could almost feel sorry for the male shopper–until you realize that image is more like a sitcom, and in real life not all men dislike shopping as much as these caricatures would have you believe.
The male shopper segment has changed in recent years, says Julian Allen, global retail research lead for Accenture, but not in the way everyone thinks.
"The stereotype that men don't like shopping and women do is inaccurate," he says. "Males do like getting new things–that's the part of the shopping process they like." It's the process of getting to the new things that men would rather avoid, Allen says.
"The physical shopping process and exposing themselves to ridicule in stores from sales assistants to being completely overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes–that part males still really don't like," Allen explains. It is key, then, to understand that the male shopper can be divided into two separate but distinct parts, he continues: "Boys like new toys, but the process for getting them is really difficult for male shoppers."
And that is a dramatic difference compared to the way females typically shop. For women, the process is often the part of shopping they like the most.
"Men are really more 'mission' shoppers than women," says Maureen Atkinson, senior partner with Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group, a global retail advisory company. "Women, if they have determined they want to buy something, are usually more patient and savvy at figuring out how to get it for the best price. Men are typically less patient and often will settle for something they're not necessarily really happy with, but it's the option they can get faster. And if they have to pay more for it, they often will, whereas if women have a budget in mind, they're probably not going to pay beyond that budget for the product."
J.C. Williams Group
Accenture's Allen would agree. "Men want to buy very, very quickly, and if it all goes smoothly, they're very loyal to that particular shop." That's not to say that female shoppers aren't also loyal. In fact, they often are, but they will still go around to multiple shops looking for the product that best fits their needs before buying it at the first shop, just to be sure.
Allen points to research that puts the average length of a shopping trip for men at one hour and 12 minutes, whereas a solo shopping trip for a woman clocks in at one hour and 40 minutes. "Men will shop," Allen says, "provided they feel in control, they know what they want, they know what they're doing, and they don't have to deal with things they don't like."
Beyond the lack of patience for the process, male shoppers differ from women in that they spend on average $8 less per trip, says Todd Hale, senior vice president of consumer and shopper insights for Chicago-based Nielsen, and co-author of Nielsen's "2013 Gender Perspective" study. Men under the age of 36 make roughly 20 trips per household per year, he adds, but that number jumps to just under 80 trips per year per household for men who are 65 years or older. Older men, Hale continues, also start to exhibit more deal shopping behaviors than their younger counterparts. The research suggests that men of retirement age have less hectic schedules and more time on their hands to take on more of the shopping trips.
Now It's Time for Something New
There are a few key generational differences that should be noted within the male shopper segment, specifically looking at millennials.
"Younger men today have different expectations of what their roles would be, and they are quite different roles than what their fathers may have felt their own roles were," explains Atkinson. She points to a more participatory relationship with their children, and an increased concern for social issues.
Allen notes that millennial males are, in general, happier with the shopping process than male shoppers in other age brackets, as they view it as a social activity. While traditionally males may be the hunters of the shopping world, and females the gatherers, the millennial male shopper exhibits more gathering tendencies than previous generations, he adds.
Nielsen's Hale points out that as millennials age, they will become a strong force simply in terms of their population numbers: "Retailers had better start getting connected to them now or fear that they're never going to be connected to them."
The Way You Do the Things You Do
No matter what their age, when all of the elements are properly aligned, shopping can be a great experience for men. But perfection can't always be counted on, and there are times that the shopping needs to be done, one way or another. As Allen points out, "Think about how people live today–people are single for much longer, they're waiting to get married or in a partnership, and there are more men who have to step up and do their own shopping."
In recent years, the economic downturn and its subsequent shaky recovery has put an even bigger damper on the task as men employ a variety of economy-driven actions to save money or even in some cases save themselves a trip to the store.
According to a Q4 2013 MarketPulse Survey from Chicago-based IRI, 34 percent of men expect their financial situation to deteriorate in the coming year, while only 24 percent expect it to improve. To save some cash, 48 percent are eating out less, 45 percent are making their cleaning products last longer, and 24 percent are sharing more household products.
The convenience store, Nielsen's Hale says, is one channel where males continue to outnumber females in terms of purchase power. With 57 percent of its customers men, the c-store is a big win for male shoppers and the connected top-selling categories, including carbonated beverages, juices, beer, snacks and candy, among others. With such a high percentage of male shoppers, the c-store channel is prime real estate to appeal to men, Hale continues, and a chance for retailers and manufacturers to collaborate on gender-specific store layouts and signage.
But if you take away the brick walls of the store, and replace them with a keyboard and monitor, or even just a tablet or smartphone, the scenario brightens quite a bit for the male shopping segment.
J.C. Williams' Atkinson notes that when online shopping first became popular, the company found that "there were fundamentally a lot more men online than women in terms of shopping." Now, however, the tides have shifted, and women are very participatory in online shopping, she notes, and in some categories, such as apparel, outnumber men in online shopping.
What Have You Done for Me Lately?
Online shopping is still a draw for male shoppers, as it's something they can stop just as easily as they start; they can sign off and take up another activity when they get bored or overwhelmed, or feel a lack of control. But that last factor is one that retailers and manufacturers need to be acutely aware of when targeting the male shopper segment.
"Men get very put off by excess choice," Allen says. "And in many cases, the choices are just so big it's completely overwhelming. Look at Amazon.co.uk for toasters, and there are more than 7,000 results. You need to be able to identify to the customer the right three or four for his needs, and make that choice really simple, and make it easy for the male shopper."
Hale points to the Nielsen study's research on how the male brain responds to different marketing and displays, and notes that for those companies seeking out the male shopper segment there are some simple rules to lean on: Use quick, direct messaging, competitive situations, and show the cost savings at the point of sale.
But when looking at the big picture, the most important thing for retailers and manufacturers to remember is simply that the male shopper does actually exist. And he's waiting to be noticed.
Take a look at the majority of promotions, and you'll see moms and kids dominating. Procter & Gamble, for example, sponsors the "Thank you, Mom," promotion, with the note, "P&G is the proud sponsor of moms." But what about the dads? They're not buying different groceries than females shoppers, but how companies relate to them is slim or nonexistent.
"It's white space," Atkinson adds, and that's a good thing for a company willing to try something new. "There aren't a lot of spaces where you can be unique and different. Retailers and manufacturers need to get the message out that they recognize the role that men and dads play."