As high consumer debt levels and government warnings of further interest rate rises dampen the UK's expectations of a continued spending boom in 2004, a new consumer survey has found that men are more likely than women to have high levels of debt and be more adversely affected in the event of an interest rate rise.
According to the survey's analysis report, 'Men and Women's Buying Habits 2004' (available from Research and Markets), the differences between men and women - particularly in terms of employment, among other areas - are lessening. But some fundamental differences in income and employment status remain unchanged. Women continue to earn on average 82% of men's wages, although differences in earnings between men and women under the age of 34 are far less pronounced.
However, age and professional status, as well as gender difference, are key factors in economic power. Young women are more likely to be in full time employment and tend to enjoy higher disposable income. Older women, often with children, continue to see their earning power reduced through part time employment. However, domesticity and its attendant duties are not only confined to women: A rise in households occupied by younger single men is ensuring that grocery shopping and household service markets are increasingly popular for men as well as for women.
Although consumer spending remains high in the UK, key markets for consumer durables have seen fairly low growth over the past 2 years as a result of deregulation, price competition, and changes in distribution (most notably the rise of internet retailing and direct sales).
The car market, while buoyant, suffered (along with other 'big ticket' items) from economic uncertainty following the attacks of 11th September 2001. Government action against over-pricing has pressured the main suppliers to drive down prices. Cars retain the 'boys toy' tag and women are still likely to allow men to have the last say in a car purchase. However, the rise in female driving licence holders represents a growth sector in the market, and women are now being targeted directly by many manufacturers.
In the white goods sector, growth in volume sales has been modest, and price erosion and competitive pricing has affected the market as well. Although big ticket items sold less quickly in 2001, there is some evidence of low market growth in 2002. According to the report, this market is led by replacement cycles rather than by innovation, although a rise in consumer demand for convenience goods (such as dishwashers) has created growth in some niche areas. Until recently there was little difference between the genders in purchasing patterns of white goods but this picture is changing: There has been a transformation in both white and brown goods distribution, which has implications for purchasing patterns with regard to gender.
Internet sales of electrical goods increased rapidly between 2002 and 2003 as specialist e-retailers have gained ground and credibility with consumers. The main supermarket chains have also expanded their provision of electrical goods. However, the report suggests that specialised electrical retailers are still more popular with men.
Furthermore, the rising strength of e-retailers and discount stores is bringing about major changes in the shopping environment, particularly in department stores. As there is more competition - particularly for bargain goods - many stores (such as Selfridges) now put emphasis on the quality of the shopping environment.
The role of leisure facilities (usually geared toward men) in out-of-town shopping centres remains an important feature of these centres. However, planning regulations do not allow for future expansion of out-of-town facilities and a key challenge for retailers remains in creating similar gender-led facilities in the revived high street.
Although some variations remain in shopping patterns between genders, research on marketing tactics reveals growing public weariness, particularly among women, for marketing campaigns that perpetuate gender stereotypes. It seems that 2003 was a year of a quiet revolution for women, as twice as many women shopped online than in the previous year, and parity in internet usage between men and women is forecast to be a reality within 3 years. This trend has seen home shopping come of age rapidly, and it is expected to be overtaken by e-retailing in the near future.
Consumer research for the report also suggests that the retail environment is becoming increasingly important in capturing customer loyalty, but that developments to cater for gender specific trends are less common in the new revitalised high street. Any transformation in the retail environment, particularly in the in-store restaurant, still has a long way to go to attract more affluent consumers.
In general terms, women are more cautious than men in their spending habits. Women are more mindful of both convenience and value, being more likely than men to visit an in-store restaurant, and far less likely to have taken out credit or loans during the past 12 months. Women are also less confident than men in their ability to spend in the future.
Nevertheless, the trend seems to be toward greater parity in shopping patterns. Although men are far more likely than women to browse the internet to compare prices, there is already parity between the patterns of men and women buying groceries on the internet or booking holidays online. This data, along with recent growth in internet searching and shopping, suggests that retailers may no longer need a differentiated approach along gender lines.
However, there are still big opportunities for retailers who want to exploit existing gender differences. For example, womens' preference for one-stop shopping, and their distrust of specialist electrical retailers, offers much scope for the major outlets to create a more sophisticated and bespoke service for women. Similarly, the report's authors suggest that high street retailers could adopt a German idea, known as 'Maennergarten' (the adult male equivalent of kindergarten), complete with bars and sports facilities, where women can leave their men while they go and shop. Now there's an idea... pass me that squeaky puppy, please.
The report provides an analysis of the UK consumer's buying power and habits, analysed by gender. The information provided includes a strategic overview, key markets, buying habits, an analysis of consumer dynamics, and possible future trends and options.