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Shopping on Planet Venus!


Understanding the dynamics of women’s buying behaviour

Times are changing fast and so are market dynamics. Today, women represent a significant proportion of the buying public no marketer can afford to ignore.

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?

                                                                                                                                    – From :
                                                                                                                                       Life and Work by , 1953

The subject of many a conjecture and argument –
How women buy? – is a question that echoes in many corporate boardrooms today. With women controlling US$ 12 trillion of the annual discretionary spend worldwide* (larger than the total consumer spending of India and China put together), never has this question appear more important to answer than now. In India alone, women are responsible for 44 per cent of the discretionary spend or US$ 150 billion, making them a consumer force to reckon with.

The truth is women love shopping! They love to shop for therapy, for discounts, for the simple joy of shopping at the window; in truth, they love shopping for no reason at all! It is not unusual for a woman to walk in with a predetermined purchase idea and walk out with something totally different. Or, spend hours browsing through multiple options and select a product only to return it the next day!

Unlike men, women are happy to browse, touch, feel, try and explore. They like taking detours, dropping everything for a deal and making numerous visits before actually zeroing down on a possible purchase. Men are more rational; for them shopping is a mission. They are out to buy a targeted item and flee the store as quickly as possible. There are a few universal truths that drive women’s shopping habits. The good news is they are easy to cater to and if marketers take cognisance of the same, they can benefit from wallet (or purse!) share of the largest consumer group in the world.

Primary Caregivers: Traditionally, women are the primary caregivers in any family. They tend to buy not just for themselves but also for their children, husband, parents, friends et al. Reaching out to women means reaching out to a host of consumer categories. Women cannot be ignored when selling a good, simply because they may be ones influencing the other person’s purchase decision.

Primary Wage Earners: The world over today, women are increasingly donning the mantle of the primary bread earners. Even in emerging economies like China, 67 to 70 per cent of the workforce constitutes of women; in India though this fi gure is smaller at 27.7 per cent**. A de-averaged view shows that while women employees in agriculture have declined, the same ratio for services as well as industry has gone up by 5 per cent. Furthermore, with the increase in female literacy (up from 37 per cent to 54 per cent between 1994 and 2010), more and more women are handling the household purse strings in our country.

Marketers cannot ignore this fact – more women are working and even earning more than their spouses. They are primed to indulge and splurge with this newfound financial liberty.

Time Deprived: It is a well-known fact that women typically have too many demands on their time and constantly juggle conflicting priorities – work, home, and family. Despite this fact, few companies have responded to their need for time-saving solutions or for products and services designed specifically for them. Marketers can introduce special online offers during lunch hour to encourage women trying to simultaneously balance shopping and eating at their desk! Home trials, home deliveries and home services for the harassed stay-at-home mother can be another area of exploration.

Experience vs. Functionality: This goes back to the gatherers versus hunters. Women are gatherers, men are hunters. Women walk into a store and scan. Men look for a specific aisle. A woman is sensory-driven by touch and feel; she is visual (notices changes in the store, will react to an unclean set-up, observes window displays and acknowledges visual merchandising); she is auditory (likes to talk and connect, and unlike men does not hesitate to ask for directions!). A superlative shopping experience is a challenge for any marketer but even simple additions like a clean environment, hygienic washrooms and even a play area for the kids can be a big influence on providing a great shopping experience for women.

Emotional Connect: As a consumer, women connect at an emotional level with the brand, the store and even the sales staff. They would like to invest where people they think deserve it. They like to feel important, like to be thanked, like to be appreciated and, yes, love being flattered! Women are more focussed on ‘people’ as opposed to ‘things’.

A simple ‘Thank You’ (irrespective of whether or not she has shopped) can go a long way in developing an emotional bond with a woman.

Women and Fashion: One of the most acquire-worthy, and unarguably one of the toughest to sell, categories in a woman’s shopping basket is fashion. Women have a complex relationship with fashion! Unlike other categories, fashion is about women themselves. To that extent it makes them feel a little selfish and very indulgent. It is one category where rules are broken and logic is defied!

For bulk of fashion marketers, the challenge is to provide value (exclusivity, fi nesse, premium, and belonging to a select group) and yet create a distinctive product offering that becomes an extension of the woman’s personality. Brands like ELLE fashionwear operate in this sweet spot – runway fashion brought to life in the context of the woman’s real world.

While keeping in mind some of the above outlined factors to connect with the woman shopper, it is also important to remember what not to do. The typical response a marketer has to sell a product to women is to Think Pink. This ‘stereotyping’ of women is increasingly making them feel undervalued and underserved

In a nutshell, men buy and women shop. It’s time marketers woke up to the needs of the largest group of shoppers in the world. Planet Venus is not so distant .