Understanding retail laws of attraction

When it comes to shopping, many men feel their needs are being ignored. Julie Oxberry says the secret is to know your customer

Julie Oxberry

There is a person currently wandering the aisles of a rather large shop. This person thinks of themselves as the principal shopper for the family yet, at the same time, they wander up and down the aisles feeling at various times patronised or, worse, completely ignored. He is, increasingly, likely to make up a significant proportion of male shoppers who feel their purchasing power is not being recognised.

In a survey conducted by Yahoo in the US in December 2010, more than half of male respondents considered themselves to be the arbiter of spending in the home. Yet more than a quarter of those men surveyed believed that the messaging in-store was not written to appeal to them, but rather to women. This focus is understandable – women still spend more than men on shopping as a whole – but clearly by targeting one group of people you run the risk of losing the other. The long-running Boots campaign, ’Here come the girls’, seems to have made just such a decision to isolate part of its customer base. However, the key to Boots’ success lies in a retail environment that is designed to be practical, that is, optimised for men.

Men tend to enjoy shopping as an act of indulgence less – or certainly less frequently – then women. The indulgence is not just in the product purchased, but in the shopper journey too. Monocle editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé was recently quoted in Marketing as saying that for men the UK department store experience is ’too mixed up… I don’t think guys want to walk on to a football-pitch-sized retail floor and think, “Where do I go?”’.

On a broad, generic level, men like to feel in control, hence the perpetual resistance to asking for directions while driving. These same men are in need of direction in-store too, with Saatchi & Saatchi X reporting at the beginning of the year that 40 per cent of them feel unwelcome in stores.

On a broad, generic level, men like to feel in control, hence the perpetual resistance to asking for directions while driving

Nielsen noted in mid-March that men are less likely than women to do grocery shopping online, but at the same time dedicate more time to researching items online. This suggests that the store environment for men could be a significantly greater influencer for product purchase than for women. We know 70 per cent of shopper decisions are made in-store. So after the male consumer does some research, it seems that it is the look and feel of the environment (and product) that persuades.

So while some retailers have trialled ’crèches’ for male shoppers, others are exploring further. Such a shift in focus is apparent in the fashion world. Recently, Jimmy Choo has joined Christian Louboutin in selling men’s shoes. While the experience of the Louboutin annex at the Selfridges shoe galleries is certainly an indulgent one, it remains practical too; the shopper journey is simple and highly visible.

Last year saw the opening of an Hermès boutique directly opposite the Manhattan flagship on Madison Avenue dedicated to men. The restrained design and richly understated interiors play host to a smorgasbord of clothing for any need, from €700 (£615) shirts to baseball gloves made with that classic leather the brand is so famous for. And perhaps that is one secret here, applying what sets you apart – in this case the quality of your leather goods, mostly promoted through handbags – to the world of men.

The Moss Bespoke store is another example of an exciting experience for men that is still immensely practical and simple, allowing for step-by-step control and understanding of the process of having a suit made.

It would be remiss to talk of men’s fashion without mentioning the arrival of Mr Porter, the male offshoot of Net-a-Porter, the women’s online site, which has been going from strength to strength since 2000.

As with all successful ventures, the (open) secret has been to know your customer. The effort put into the delivery of goods ordered through Net-a-Porter is a symbol of its differentiation from other premium online outlets, such as Luisaviaroma.

Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet told the FT recently that the male offering follows a similar tack: Mr Porter is ’largely black and white, more tabloid in tone’. That men shop in completely different ways to women, and having this reflected by the environment in which they shop, is elementary, but is something that some retailers have forgotten when they design new stores, failing to differentiate between the offerings. Mr Porter succeeds because editorially it manages to impart information to men that they feel they have ’discovered’. Crucially, the editorial is suggestive rather than patronising. It takes the form of the older brother you want to emulate, rather than a more paternal tone.

All of which points to men’s need for classic, simple experiences that can be seen as timeless. They are not swayed as much by trends as women and they are prodigious in the amount of research they seem to enjoy doing into a product. Once in store, however, we are all just as vulnerable to the environment, which is why the design of retail space is so fundamental in making people feel welcome, especially if they are after a pair of Louboutins.

Shopping habits of the sexes

  • Women still spend more than men on shopping
  • Men are less likely than women to do grocery shopping online, but at the same time they dedicate more time to researching items online
  • The store environment for men could be a significantly greater influencer for product purchase than for women
  • Saatchi & Saatchi X reported at the beginning of the year that 40 per cent of men say that they feel unwelcome in stores
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  • Amy Fox November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I think women have more of a tendancy to induge in a brand story, to enjoy the lifestyle element you get from a product – ‘I wear a beautiful dress therefore I have a beautiful life’ Where as men a much more clinical and objective about purchases, they may fall for the technical gagets more than women because there are more rational explainations like ‘it will save me time or money’ to back up their emotional choices. I say more about brand stories in our own blog http://twizzlebird.co.uk/blog/?p=140 would love to hear your comments.

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