The Psychology of Shopping: Part 1


The Psychology of Shopping: Part 1
December 24, 2010 Glen Duffield

The psychology of shopping has always fascinated me. Why do I shop differently to my wife? Why are products packaged and displayed the way they are? What is the the influence of the senses on the shopping experience? How important is a store layout? Why do people shop? I think these are all questions worthy of investigation, so over the next couple of months I‘m going to attempt to answer them and hopefully some more by researching, and talking to a few of our clients who operate within the retail industry. Surely an understanding of this sort of human behaviour can improve my skills and awareness as a consumer, and offer some insight for sellers as well.

With Christmas on our doorsteps, I’ve got shopping on my mind. I haven’t started my shopping, and as per normal will probably start with less than a a week to go. Typical male behaviour, so a good place to start asking questions. Why do I shop they way I do? Is it typical for a male? What are the defining aspects of a stereotypical male shopper? I like shopping, sort-of, and having worked in various retail stores have experienced first-hand the difference between the shopping styles of men and women. Before I started researching how other people perceive these differences, and what research has found, I wanted to reconcile my own thoughts.

Personally, unless I’m shopping for gadgets, sports and outdoor gear or tools, I’m a fast shopper. I’ll have a good idea of the goods I want before I even leave my house and a plan for how I’ll acquire them. My personal shopping mantra is, “In and out, don’t mess about,” so from a retailer’s point of view I should be an ideal customer. All it takes is a salesperson to say hello, ask me what I want, and find it. Easy? Apparently not. The amount of times I’ve left a store because nobody has said hello is staggering.

I was talking to a friend recently about his shopping experience when looking for a shirt for a wedding. He knew what he wanted and was under time pressure. Ignored in the first store he went in to, he continued to the closest equivalent, where he had a very different experience. The salesperson gave great service, identified the right shirt, and even matched my friend’s personality with some gentle ‘banter’ during their dialogue. We’ve all encountered good service in the past, but the comment that stuck with me after the conversation was my friend’s desire to be a great customer. A great customer? I’ve heard of customers hoping for a great salesperson and vice-versa, but I’ve never heard someone tell me they wanted to be a good customer. So maybe we’re evolving as men, no longer neolithic ‘hunters’ on a search and acquire mission, but a search for the mutually beneficial interaction that a great sales experience can be.

Here’s a few generalisations I’m aware of about males and shopping:

  • We don’t like it as much as women
  • We don’t like browsing
  • We’re more interested in practicality than style
  • We don’t want conversation, we just want help finding what we need
  • We like to feel a sense of control in the sales process
  • We don’t need a bargain, just a fair deal

One more observation: rules are made to be broken. I know guys who love shopping, for themselves and others, they follow fashion, and they find the entire process cathartic and rewarding. So before my research begins I enter this with an open mind, hoping to find not necessarily answers but insight into the behaviours of men and women, and the product environment that is so methodically ordered to encourage their buying behaviour.