The effect of gender and age on retail problems

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on November 30, 2007

Approximately half of all customers reported having experienced problems during their most recent shopping experience in a survey by the Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Verde Group, and WomenCertified. But most interesting were the differences in attitude between the genders.

The 'Men Buy, Women Shop' study was conducted to examine gender differences in the retail shopping experience, and found that women are more likely to experience problems than men (53% against 48%) when shopping. This applies particularly to women over the age of 40, compared to men in the same age group.

The effect of a problem
Although women are more likely to experience problems, the study found that a shopping problem can be more detrimental to the retailer when male shoppers are involved. Men are nearly 20% less likely to recommend a store where they experienced problems than women - a difference that is even more pronounced among men under the age of 40.

"This year's research was different from our previous studies because we probed gender differences, purchase type by product category, and age," explained Paula Courtney, president for the Verde Group. "Because problem experiences remain prevalent, retailers need to understand the consumer, and segmenting shoppers in this way gives us a window into what makes them tick."

Top retail problems
Among the biggest problems that female shoppers experienced were:

  • A lack of help when needed (29%) came first on the list for women, and is also the reason that is most likely to result in lost business. Some 6% of female shoppers are likely to defect as a result of this factor.
  • Men's priorities were different, with difficulty in finding parking close to the store's entrance being cited as the top problem (also 29%). However, the problem that is most likely to lead to lost business for men is when a product is out of stock (5% of men are likely to defect as a result).

Key loyalty builders
Men and women alike reported being the most satisfied with sales associates' willingness to let them shop or browse at their own pace. At least 77% reported being very satisfied with this attribute. Other key builders of loyalty include:

  • For men, a key loyalty builder is the sales associate's interest in helping them find the item they are looking for, followed by the sales associate's effort in getting them through the check-out quickly.
  • For women, loyalty builders are more closely related to the sales associate's familiarity with products, and determining what products would suit their needs best. Women shoppers also value sales associates who make them feel important.

"Sales associates need to be available, attentive, and enthusiastic, especially with women shoppers," explained Stephen J. Hoch, director for the Baker Retail Initiative at Wharton. "Men have a much more utilitarian approach to shopping."

Major retail turn-offs
The study also found that when women shoppers feel like they are an imposition, it can be very harmful to business. Almost half (47%) of women shoppers said they would not return to a store because "store employees acted like shoppers were intruding on their time or their own conversations". However, only 22% of men felt the same way, and this difference became even more pronounced for men and women over the age of 40.

"Retailers frequently come up short when selling to women. Female shoppers should feel empowered, and they should demand more positive shopping experiences from retailers. If retailers respond by reducing the kinds of problems outlined in this research, they will ultimately benefit from long term shopper loyalty," said Delia Passi, founder of WomenCertified.

The word-of-mouth effect
Because shopping experiences - both good and bad - are often shared with others, the study also looked at what kinds of incidents were most likely to be passed along.

At least 50% of shoppers reported having had a "Wow!" shopping experience at some point in their life. More women than men reported having had such an experience, and both men and women are about four times more likely to tell people about their positive experiences than their negative shopping experiences. However, so-called "wow" shopping experiences tend to occur far less often than problem experiences.

"Women are more influenced, positively or negatively, by the interaction with the sales associate, especially when buying items other than apparel," noted Courtney. "But for the men, it's more about the product being there, and getting in and out of the store as quickly as possibly."

For additional information:
·  Visit Jay H Baker at
·  Visit Verde Group at
·  Visit WomenCertified at