Attention, Shoppers!

Gender Differences and Accommodating Senior Shoppers

You say we're trained to go to the right when we go into a store because most of us are right-handed. What about lefties?
Underhill: They're 10 to 15 percent of the population and have been well-trained. Older people will be especially conditioned this way. The point is, know that as a rule, people will start their circulation of the store by going right.

What constitutes good or bad store design?
Underhill: A lot of women are uncomfortable in narrow aisles-what I call the "butt-brush" factor. If you want them to stop and browse where there's a high rate of conversion to purchase, you need to have wide aisles.

On the other hand, don't put a product for men in places where an alpha male will be perfectly comfortable blocking traffic while he examines it.

Quick Stats
of men who take jeans into a fitting room end up buying them, compared with just 25 percent of women.

of women look at price tags when they shop, compared with 72 percent of men.

Do men and women shop differently?
Underhill: Women are more patient and get more out of the search. Men want to go in for the quick kill. You want to turn guys into drunken sailors, getting them excited about the fun of shopping. They love sampling and trials. If you're selling something for kids, aim the merchandising at them so they'll push Dad for it, since he'll have a harder time saying no than Mom. I don't understand why McDonald's doesn't put the kiddie menu on the floor, which is where the kids are.

For women, create the reality and the illusion that you're making shopping efficient, since they're being pressured [by men]. Less waiting time at the register is critical. Also, hardware and technology retailers need to make women feel welcome, since they're increasingly the customers.

Given that stores often appeal to one sex or the other, they should have comfortable, strategically placed chairs for the uninvolved party to relax, because the more they get distracted, the more time the shopper will have to browse, which is the most important factor in purchase size. Too often, chairs are placed as an afterthought. Put out reading material that is appropriate. You can even leave out merchandising materials to give them ideas for gifts.

How should retailers accommodate seniors?
Underhill: If you're going to sell to older people, who are an increasing part of the population, you need good lighting. If you're selling packaged goods, you might want to follow the lead of Eckerd's drugstores in Florida, which put magnifying glasses on chains at points of purchase. Also, the lenses of our eyes yellow as we age, so colors look different.

If you put something below 28 inches, seniors may have trouble stooping down to get it. On the other hand, that's a great place for stuff for kids; you don't want to put products for them too high.



1. Break It Down. Generational gaps have an effect on how consumers interpret your marketing campaigns, so target each demographic as a distinctive group.

2. Women Rule. "Women are an important part of the consumer economy," says Underhill. "Pay attention to them."

3. The Times They Are A-Changin'. "Understand that the way we shop in 2001 is different from the way it was 10 years ago," says Underhill. "Recognize the value of convenience."

4. Market to Minorities. "We are a nation of immigrants," says Underhill. "Your outreach to those customers to whom English is not a first language is just good business."

5. Have Fun. "If it isn't fun, people aren't going to come back," says Underhill. "If you're having fun doing what you're doing, and your employees are having fun doing what they're doing, then it means your customers are going to have fun [spending money]."

-Peter Kooiman

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This article was originally published in the December 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Attention, Shoppers!.

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