Everything you need to know about male and female shopping behavior

Personalization has become a key factor in designing the shop and shopping experience. Especially online, shoppers get to see a personalized version of the webstore based on, for instance, demographics and previous behavior. Through in-store analytics and responsive retail these options are becoming more feasible for brick-and-mortar by the day. But before being able to personalize for each shopper, it’s essential to first understand your shoppers in a much broader sense, by gender. Male and female shopping behavior is vastly different and it’s essential to adjust your store design, layout and staff. What are main differences in in-store behavior and what can retailers do to cater to these differences?

Women shop, men buy

Women spend more time in stores and like to browse and compare options, while men want to be out of the store as soon as possible. According to one study of 2,000 Brits, men get bored after 26 minutes of shopping, women only after 2 hours. Several researchers have linked these preferences and behaviors to our hunter-gatherer past. Men ‘hunt’ for buys, women ‘gather’ clothes going from store to store selecting the best options. Another explanation is that women are more risk-averse and therefore want to know more about the product and compare options before buying.

Women don’t mind to – literally – go the extra mile, while for men it has to be as easy and quick as possible. Therefore, if the retailer has a floor with women’s and men’s apparel mixed, it’s best to place the fitting room near the men’s area, otherwise men might never reach it. An additional advantage is that conversion rate after fitting is much higher for men than for women. According to Why We Buy it’s 65% for the first and 25% for the latter, meaning you really want to get those male shoppers in your fitting room.

Getting back to the idea that shopping for men is a ‘hunt’, it makes sense that shopping is not considered a social activity. For women, on the other hand, shopping is generally considered more of a relaxing and social activity. There are multiple ways to use this as a retailer. Nordstrom, for instance, has created ‘girlfriend dressing rooms’, oversized dressing rooms separated by a curtain. This allows women to easily chat and show clothes they’ve tried on to each other.

In Why We Buy author Underhill states: “women are more patient and inquisitive, completely at ease in a space that gradually reveals itself. Therefore, they need an environment where they can spend time and move about comfortably at their own speed in what sometime resembles a semitrance state.” Thus, whereas the retailer might think more about functionality and ease of finding desired items in the men’s department, it might focus on the pleasure and experience of the space in the women’s. It’s no surprise that some retailers that sell both menswear and womenswear are starting to open female-only stores. This creates special environments, in which some females might feel more comfortable and relaxed and where they can try on suff in front of each other.

Male and female turn-offs

When it comes to encountering problems, there’s also a gender difference. A study by The Wharton School pointed out that females are more prone to be put off by sales person’s ‘disrespect’, whereas males tend have a bad experience if sales associates lack knowledge about the product and can’t give advice or help in selecting items.  Moreover, men tend to have more problems in navigating and item selection, mainly as a result of the store being too cluttered or not enough information being displayed near the product. So, retailers that want to increase male dwell time by putting more items in the store, need to strike a balance between increasing dwell time, and delivering a pleasant experience. Futhermore, the study suggested that if shoppers encounter a problem, women are more likely to forgive the store and still stay loyal, whereas men’s loyalty drops by as much as 40%.

There seem to be some general patterns when it comes to male and female shopping behaviors that a retailer can adapt to. What’s interesting and important to keep in mind, however, is that young males are thought to be more savvy shoppers, their behavior resembling typical ‘female’ shopping behavior. So, it certainly depends on the type of store and your specific audience how the male and female shopper will behave; a boutique store with high-end clothes will likely attract people that are interested in fashion and shopping and therefore males might be more inclined to exhibit a ‘female trait': thoroughly comparing items, looking for that perfect fit. Thus, we advise you to use a combination of science, observations and common sense to optimize your store’s men’s and women’s department. Use that as a start and then test your assumptions through in-store analytics and discover how men and women really behave in your setting.