Twenty five years ago I couldn’t imagine getting all my Christmas shopping done from the comfort of the man den. The idea of a world without malls was pure fantasy, right up there with that scene from Flashdance where Jennifer Beals dances in place until she’s raining sweat.
But today, it’s reality. Men really do have an alternative to the drudgery of shopping. It’s called e-commerce.
For men, shopping harkens back to cro-Magnon days when we’d hunt down the things we NEEDED to survive. Men shop alone, in order to be more stealthy and less visible to people who might recognize us. We know what we want and we go out and get it… Essentials like tools, sporting goods and electronic gadgets. It’s a focused, goal-oriented, testosterone-producing activity. But only after the prize is in the bag.
Women go out in groups and gather things they might need someday, during an unusually hard winter. Frivolous stuff like bed skirts and duvet covers. It’s part of their natural, nesting instincts. They can happily browse for hours without buying anything, because shopping fulfills a physical need for women. Recent brain research is conclusive on this… An afternoon at the mall with friends produces oxytocin — a chemical in the brain known as the cuddling hormone.
Googling “bargain jeans” just isn’t the same.
On-line shopping doesn’t offer the same psychological, sociological and even anthropological benefits that women get from traditional shopping trips. Let’s face it, websites are more logical than they are intuitive. The whole on-line thing is more geared to the male brain than the female brain. It’s the nature of the beast.
Few on-line retailers establish the emotional connection women really need. Nancy F. Koehn, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies retailing and consumer habits, said that online shopping is more a chore than an escape. “It’s not like you think: ‘I’m a little depressed. I’ll go onto Amazon.com and get transported.”
Koehn said that while traditional retailers have made the in-person buying experience more pleasurable, online stores have continued to give shoppers a blasé experience. Well guess what… Men don’t care! They’re not looking for an “experience,” they’re looking for a trophy on the wall.
The last thing men need is a true shopping “experience.” That’s what we’ve been trying to avoid all these years. That’s what we know as sitting outside the outlet mall waiting for the women to return after an hour and a half in the Dress Barn.
In better retail environments, lighting, store layout, background music, graphics and good customer service all work together to make shopping a pleasant, sensory experience that appeals to the emotional center of a women’s brain. It’s a real art.
Unfortunately, most on-line stores are slapped together about as well as a Mexican convenience store. If it weren’t for men, half of those sites would be out of business entirely.
According to Forrester Research, men spend more and take less time than women to make on-line purchases. And once a sale is made, men return only 10% of apparel purchases, while women return more than 20%. As to spending, another market research group found that men dropped an average of $2,400 online compared to women who spent closer to $1,500 in the same, three-month span.
Don’t quibble over price, just locate the target and make the kill. Get in get out.
Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with sites that present a thousand random choices, right off the bat. Too many choices slows the decision-making process and leads to frustration for men. It’s like standing in the beer isle in an Oregon grocery store … there are so many choices of micro-brews it’s almost ridiculous. Ales, IPAs, Hefes, Lagers, Pilsners, Stouts, Browns and Ambers in a crazy array of packages from all over the world. It’s too much information.
That’s one reason men love brand name products, brand name stores, brand name sites and brand-name beer: We trust the brand to narrow the choices for us and provide some degree of quality control. (Anything from Deschutes Brewery is good.)
When I shop at REI, online or offline, I know I don’t have to wade through a bunch of crap before I find the quality products. It’s all good, because it’s REI. In the brick & mortar world, the choices are limited by the physical floor space. An REI shoe buyer has room for only so many different styles and prices points, so that’s all you get to choose from. There’s no such limitations in the on-line world.
Zappos claims to have 1,095 brands, 165,722 styles, 906,874 UPCs and 2,957,471 products. That might work for women who make shoe shopping a pseudo-profession, but guys want those choices narrowed down.
Forrester Research reports that 70 percent of online consumers research their purchases on-line, then buy off-line. This so-called “clicks-and-bricks” hybrid model is classic male behavior. But it’s not really shopping, it’s research.
So where’s it all going?
Less than four percent of all retail sales are currently made on-line — a reassuring stat for traditional retail businesses. If you have an e-commerce company, look at it this way… you’ve hardly scratched the surface.
If your product line and/or brand appeals to women you have to work hard to establish an emotional connection and emulate the mall experience as close as possible. But realize, e-commerce will never replace the real thing.
If your on-line store is more male-oriented your job’s a little easier. Keep your product selection focused — don’t try to be all things to all men. Offer brand name products and establish your own brand as a name to trust.
And give guys a way to avoid the mall altogether… they’ll reward you for it in the end.
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