The Psychology of Shopping


The Psychology of Shopping – 2
January 24, 2011 Glen Duffield

As the science of sales evolves and grows, retailers are becoming more ‘savvy’ in their sales techniques. However consumers are getting smarter too and as the unprecedented access to information and products online becomes a greater part of our lives, it is now more important than ever for sellers to be staying one step ahead. Not only do they need to understand as much as the most discerning buyer, but they need a deep knowledge of the psychology of shopping to ensure they have a competitive advantage within their own industry. After all, until we can understand what, why and how the customer buys, we cannot realistically create a complete solution to their needs. Generally sellers are not looking to manipulate, rather to meet their customers needs to the best of their abilities.

Last month I shared some of my own preconceptions and opinions of male shopping behaviour, and this month I’ve been reading research reports and articles to see if I was on the right track. Here’s some of the observations I made about men 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

According to Evans, Christiansen and Gill (1996), females have historically been expected to fulfill the shopping role, but evidence suggests that this is slowly changing as the role of ‘homemaker’ becomes less common and the amount of females in employment increases. They also found their case study of working women, female ‘homemakers’ and men that shopped, that men were less deal-conscious than both female sample groups. Interestingly, they also found that men were the highest in the ‘personalisation’ orientation which suggests they are more receptive to ‘personal trade,’ or returning to a store to deal with a specific salesperson.

Bakewell, Mitchell, Rothwell (2006) found that men often dress for comfort and fit as opposed to fashion or style, and are likely to visit the same stores and buy the same brands. Frith and Gleeson (2004) also found that practicality was of much greater importance to men than aesthetic value and that often the feeling of looking good was more closely aligned to comfort and correct fitting. In the same study it was found that men generally regarded shopping as a “Process of acquiring new clothes,” whereas women saw it as an opportunity to browse and try on new ‘identities’.

Now I know the following point is not well researched and may not be entirely relevant to this piece, but it is interesting. During my research I found an article that suggested there may be a reason why men are not drawn to colours like pink and red while women stereotypically are. The article explains that the primordial role of the female was as a gatherer, and that “An evolved preference for red pink and allied shades could thus bring advantage to those who gather such things. And if they can also remember which tree to go and visit next time, then so much the better.” (“Sex, Shopping and Thinking Pink,” 2007). The practical value in this research for retailers? Don’t sell pink clothes to men?

Ignoring this practically useless point, it seems most of my observations were relatively accurate. Research shows that men don’t enjoy shopping as much as women, are less likely to browse, prefer practicality to style, and are less ‘bargain conscious.’ So the final part of this equation is to find out how we can utilise some of these truths and sell smarter to our customers. Next month we’ll have a look at some of the ways retailers capitalise on the understanding of their target market, and whether retailers can maximise revenue with psychological techniques.