When it comes to the topic of gender and shopping, the accepted stereotype is that women love it and men hate it. Seeing the poor guy at the mall sitting in an overstuffed armchair by the escalator while his girlfriend tries on the fifteenth dress of the day only helps instill this idea in our minds. Of course it can’t be denied that there are men who love to shop, who change their wardrobes with the season and buy the newest electronic toy as soon as it hits the market. This poses the question: Are men, in their own unique way, just as addicted to shopping as women?
Elayne Boosler quips, “When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.” This generalization dates back to the 1940s when women were expected to tend to the house while men worked. Shopping was historically considered a woman’s role and the acceptance of traditional gender roles have only increased the stereotype. The founder of WomenCertified, Delia Passi says that it comes down to a simple fact: by nature, men are hunters and women are gatherers. She concludes by saying that, usually, a woman is delighted in the process of shopping, where a man desires a less involved shopping experience that just allows him to get what he wants.
Sort of. Researchers at The Wharton School of Business found that women spend more time shopping but actually spend less money overall because the shopping experience (i.e. trying on clothes and comparing prices) is what is really enjoyable. On the other hand, men are on a mission to get a job done. Men don’t shop as frequently, but when they do, they will spend more money in one trip on big purchases like expensive electronics and car accessories. For instance, according to a recent National Retail Federation survey, 40% of male Black Friday shoppers bought high-ticket electronic items, while female shoppers spent around $300 on CDs and books.
So is the blanket generalization that women shop more than men true or false? It seems to be both. In one sense, it’s true that women shop more frequently than men do, but sometimes they leave empty handed if they are price-shopping or simply shopping for the experience. But the stereotype doesn’t hold when we look at what is spent. Men actually spend more money when they do go shopping, as infrequent as the actual shopping experience may be.
The male shopper tops the spending lists in several categories. For example, the Consumer Electronics Association found that men outspend women in annual consumer electronic purchases by nearly 50%. This study reveals that, on average, men drop $908 a year while women spend only $558 a year on electronics. Also, supporting consumer electronic category findings is the above-mentioned National Retail Federation survey, which also showed men outspending women by 38.1% during Black Friday sales. On average, men spent $420.37 on consumer electronics on Black Friday, compared to female shoppers who spent only $304.30.
Another category in which men spend more, according to Marshall Cohen (chief industry analyst at the NPD Group), is business attire. According to Citing, an astounding 3 out of 4 men shopped for their own clothes in 2006! The ‘GQ Marketing to Men’ section of the newsletter notes that this is a far cry from 2001 when women, not men, made 70% of clothing item purchases. The Wall Street Journal adds staggering statistics: there has been a 44% increase since 1995 in men shopping for their own clothes. Driving male-spending home, the NPD Group admits that a surprising 21.5% of men are willing to spend money on designer jeans, compared to only 18.9% of women.
Another interesting theory is that the motivation to shop is completely different in men and women. In the study “Men Buy, Women Shop,” researchers revealed the reasons why women love shopping and men don’t. They found that men base their shopping decision on the convenience factor, such as location of the store and immediate need for the item. Men also only approach a salesperson when they have to, in order to complete a transaction or to gain information regarding the item’s availability. On the contrary, women relish time spent interacting with a salesperson and are often content ‘just looking’ and learning what the store has to offer. Wharton’s study confirms this trend per CVS’s chief marketing officer, Robert Price. “Women tend to be more invested in the shopping experience on many dimensions. Men want to go to Sears, buy a specific tool and get out.”
According to another recent study conducted by Experian and PayPal, the online shopping community is actually comprised of more men than women. In fact, men are being converted into online shoppers 50% more often than women. The male online shopper is driven by the convenience and availability afforded by shopping online. PayPal credits the speed with which a product can be purchased, coupled with the ability to compare prices without taking a trip to crowded malls and dodging chatty salespeople, to the quick expansion of this recent trend.
There is other evidence of men’s propensity to shop, especially online. America Online found that during the holiday shopping season, men will spend approximately $326 online while women will spend $284. Outside of holiday shopping, men still outspend women online, averaging $204 per month compared to women at an average of only $186 per month. While the conclusions of such studies may betray popular intuition, it’s becoming more definitive than ever that the stereotype of ‘women as shoppers’ may, in many ways, be little more than a myth.
According to a recent study by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 31% of women prefer to research online and buy in-store, while 57% research and purchase online. So where do men and women agree? When making direct comparisons between in-store and online shopping, on average, both sexes found online shopping to be less demanding, exciting, entertaining, and enjoyable. However, unlike women, men saw in-store and online shopping to more similar on all of these dimensions, with the exception of one: demanding. Perhaps this could explain why so many men prefer to shop online – it’s “easier” and they simply don’t crave the shopping experience. And, because online shopping happens in private, this difference might play a large role in why stereotypes regarding gender and shopping have not shifted.
Maybe the psychology behind gender-based shopping behavior is true, placing men as hunters and women as gatherers. But it’s clear that men actually hold their own when it comes to shopping and often surpass women in spending in several categories. One could get away with saying that men are still not as addicted to shopping as women are, especially to the overall shopping experience. They want convenience and the immediate gratification of finding what they want and getting it as quickly as possible. And, while it’s also probably safe to say that men certainly do not like to shop as much as women do, they most definitely like to spend.
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