Marketing from the Grocery Aisles: Do Women and Men Shop Differently

One would think since I write about grocery shopping I would relish wandering the aisles for canned goods, perusing the meat and dairy cases, shivering through the frozen foods section, selecting produce, and sifting through coupons for the best deals.

Truth be told. I look forward to visiting the grocery store, but struggle to fill my cart, quickly getting frustrated with the process. I’m overwhelmed by the number of choices, often discouraged when I can’t match a coupon to a product on the shelf, wander up-and-down the aisles in search of obscure items like Velveeta (I think they move it every week), and see “dead animals” when I get near the meat section. Not good.

Instead, my husband and I “divide and conquer,” with me concentrating on picking out produce, and developing menus based on the selection, and him running up-and-down the aisles with a lengthy grocery list and stack of coupons.

Last week, bell peppers were two for a dollar. Voila! I instantly decided to make stuffed bell peppers. I quickly zipped through the store, choosing six peppers, a Walla Walla onion, bunch of spinach, stalk of celery, ground turkey meat, and a can of crushed tomatoes. I was done shopping. french_grocery_store

Not really. There was much more to get on our list, and coupons to match up with products.

It got me thinking. Are there difference in how women and men shop?

According to Dr. Gary Mortimer, from Queensland University of Technology’s School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations, men value efficiency and independence over customer services, and tend not to ask for help.1 His research, however, focuses specifically on health and personal care products such as deodorant, shaving and hair products. Dr. Mortimer contents some male shoppers have a “fear of the feminine,” and dislike shopping among women’s health products such as tampons, waxing strips, pink razors, and body scrubs.”

Creating aisles dedicated to male toiletries could lead to increased sales. Sure enough, when US grocer H-E-B created a male zone, health and beauty sales rose 11 percent.

Another study compared the responses of male and female shoppers when it comes to sales promotions: Special displays, in-store price discounts, retail feature advertisements, and coupons. While there are distinctive differences in shopping behavior, there’s no difference in how men and women respond to sales promotions.2 Both genders similarly use coupons, respond in the same maAisles of foodnner to displays and in-store discounts, and are equally influenced by advertisements. Men, however, do tend to purchase slightly more expensive items, typically brand items, and are more willing to switch brands if they can take advantage of a promotion.

A third study by Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative and Toronto consulting firm Verde Group,3 espouses men are on a mission when they shop, buying a specific item, then then fleeing the store as quickly as possible. Whereas, women meander, stopping to browse, and detouring when something catches their eye.

While women’s shopping experience is more strongly influenced by the sales associates and the “joy” of shopping, men are more pragmatic, influenced by the availability of parking, whether an item is stocks, and length of checkout lines. According to Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch, “Women think of shopping as an interpersonal human fashion, and men treat it as more instrumental. It’s a job to get done.”

A stark difference in shopping behavior between the genders is how sales associates are viewed. Women cite “lack of help when needed,” as the top reason for not returning to a store. They value sales associates’ familiarity with the products in the store, pointing out what’s new, and ability to determine which products best suit their needs.

Men are less influenced by sales associates’ behavior. Although, men expect associates to help them find an items, and then quickly ring up the sale. Associates who won’t check for additional stock or direct them to an item are perceived as “lazy.”

Delia Passi, founder of WomenCertified, explains the difference between men and women shoppers as, “It goes back to gatherers versus hunters. Women are gatherers. Men are hunters. Women walk into a store a scan. Men look for a specific aisles.”

This analogy could explain why my preference is to wander through the produce section, gathering fruits and vegetables for the week; whereby my husband hunts for specific items on our list or for which he has coupons. Together we get what we need, utilizing our gender differences to fill a grocery cart.

1 ‘His’ and ‘Her’ Grocery Aisles, Retail Wire, Tom Ryan, June 6, 2011
2 A Comparison of the Responsiveness of Male Shoppers Versus Female Shoppers to Sale Promotions, Brenda S. Sonner, TSUM, Gail Ayala, University of Georgia, Richard Mizerski, Griffith University, 1995
3 ‘Men Buy, Women Shop’: The Sexes Have Different Priorities When Walking Down the Aisles, Knowledge@Wharton, November 28, 2007


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