Excluding the jungle training grounds of any lingering Amazon tribes, the majority of real world activities contain around a 50% quota of men. Why then, having already invaded the warrior preserve of ancient huntresses, does it seem sometimes impossible for so many men to match their female counterparts in terms of purchasing activity within the consumer market? Why is the weekly food shop so daunting?

A quick-witted, focused yet impulsive and impatient beast, the male shopper is commonly characterised as the quarry rather than the hunter. He may be gradually coming to terms with the increasingly retail-oriented world around us, but many analysts, female partners, and even men themselves, would still argue that his ineptitude in the consumer arena is persistent. Embedded notions of gendered shopping psychology have encouraged a flagrant dismissal of men, in favour of women, in the retail arena. This is not, however, the only option.

Retail Intelligence has recently investigated the issues surrounding the male as a consumer of untapped potential and its published report attempts to show retailers how to encourage the spending power of men, through store design, product placement, advertising and marketing. It comments on the marked disparity between the consumption habits of men and women, and analyses the distinct aspects of the male shopping psychology, to establish whether the male shopper is a source worth targeting.

Is there a real difference between male and female shoppers?

“Food shopping – fantasy fun?”

Historically, shopping and consumption is an intrinsically gendered topic. Although it is important not to allow clichéd sexual difference to provide broad generalisations, highlighting consumer variety is an essential tool of retail strategy. In accordance with habit formed through many generations, countless families witness the weekly ritual of the husband’s submission to his wife’s judgement in the purchase of perishable commodities and ephemera. Many men are convinced that women are actually better at shopping generally, and gendered roles in the food store are no different. Food shopping does not provide the fantasy fun promised by purchasing clothes or home items, both areas traditionally associated with female consumers, but it is perceived as a humdrum weekly expedition, and women are traditionally the budget keepers. It is often assumed that they are more frugal, and therefore actually better at shopping for the basics. Men, meanwhile, are often characterised by an impatient functionality that quickly brings on “supermarket fatigue.”

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Appreciating the different life cycles of men?

Families are changing, however. And retailers need to diversify: for too long any primitive inclusion of the male shopper in the supermarket retailer’s strategy has failed to realise the importance of men in every generation. Retail Intelligence suggests that this can be done through an appreciation of not only gender difference but also the life cycles of men. The pre-family man is a favourite with retailers. With plenty of free income, shoppers of this category often establish themselves through material possessions. They remain a relatively small sector of the consumer base; and buy only on a “needs must” basis. Impulse food shopping trips make them more receptive to new commodities that satisfy curiosity. This can obviously be utilised in a positive way for retailers; impulse buys are the product of boredom, in a sex not trained, or necessarily tuned into, the art of searching for a bargain, or the best deal.

“Impulse buying versus bargain hunting.”

Next, the family man is commonly ignored because of the economic ties, which, it is assumed, limit his spending power. On the contrary however, these shoppers are not likely to spend time searching for bargains, as for them time is money. Attention will be focused on blatant special offers, and retailers could also focus here on encouraging good consumption habits for later fulfilment. Proportionally, the post-family man forms the male spending group with the most economic importance, but he is commonly ignored today because he is not comfortable in shops. The population is living longer and is therefore not adequately represented by retailers’ assumptions. Cherry Walker, of Dynamic Markets, revealed that between November 1998 and July 1999, research conducted for Gresham Computing also showed that age was the largest differentiating factor in attitudes to shopping. Appreciating the importance of age in conjunction with gender, can make the approach of retailers more effective.

Making a store more man-friendly

So the question remains: what can be done to unlock the potential of the male consumer? Once the differences between the sexes and within the male consumer range itself, are accepted, they may be utilised. Retail Intelligence focuses on the minor changes that can be made in any retail establishment to make male shoppers more comfortable; to encourage a male familiarity with the shopping arena particularly in terms of shop floor layout, product placement, marketing and advertising strategies.

In terms of the actual store layout, the Retail Intelligence report has revealed the necessity of an easy and quick exit. For Mr Average, it seems that the ideal shopping trip is characterised by its speedy conclusion, and this is especially the case of the pre-family man, who gets easily frustrated in the checkout queue carrying a basket of impulse purchases behind the family shopper. Similarly, the dulling impact of the food shop may be softened with a “buffer zone,” a neutral area in which men may linger, between the real world and the business of shopping. This is best illustrated with the magazine areas in Tesco or Sainsbury.

“Supermarket lifestyling shows men the way.”

Creating male areas within stores is a common strategy. Many UK supermarkets now have much in common with the continental hypermarkets in their provision of extra zones, with CDs or masculine electrical goods. Asda refers to these areas as adding value to the shopping experience, but they also satisfy a distinctly male need for distraction in the shopping environment. It also seems that many stores are attempting “supermarket lifestyling for men,” providing subtle suggestions of necessary items, whispered through adjacencies in the product placement of lifestyle items with masculine products. Such displays show, but they do not tell. Last summer, countless male consumers were convinced by the six packs (of beer) situated next to the barbecue paraphernalia.

Appreciating gender difference means not closing the gap between the sexes but highlighting it, an important issue to remember within product advertising and marketing. In line with a classless, non-judgemental approach, a product destined for the male consumer is most effectively packaged in a no-nonsense style. Men are acutely aware of products that define their gender: the ”man-sized” tag is common on many unisex items to take advantage of this. Beer is also viewed by retailers as instant gratification: Sainsbury retains male interest with special beer offers dotted around the store, and the “booze alley” is a common reward at the end of a gruelling shop.

Is the male shopper a source worth targeting?

“Men can shop, and they shop well.”

The inclusion of the male sex in retailers’ strategies has a huge, and as yet largely untapped, potential sales-wise. For many years, companies have failed to adequately nuance the food retail scene and appreciate difference. The retailing needs of each age group and both sexes are apparently at odds with each other, with women hunting for bargains and men using variable spending power to impulse buy. However, the shopping habits of the sexes may be formed, coaxed and encouraged during each lifecycle. Men can shop, and they shop well. Using gender difference to unlock the formula of retailing opens up a wealth of consumer, and consuming, potential.

For more information on the topic of sexual difference in retailing strategies in all markets, the report published by Retail Intelligence may be purchased through just-food.com’s knowledge store, Click Here