Retailers Take Note, Shopping Becomes a Guy Thing

Last Updated Jul 1, 2009 4:15 PM EDT

Most retailers, with the exception of home center and convenience store operators, build their marketing and display plans around the assumption that shoppers are overwhelmingly female, but that's not such a safe bet anymore.

A Nielsen Co. report demonstrates that male shoppers are becoming increasingly important and need to be recognized.

Today, according the report, 31.5 percent of men act as primary household shopper, up from 14.3 percent in 1985.

While women continued to dominate shopping trips in the retail sectors studied -- except for convenience stores but including dollar stores, grocery stores, mass-market/discount stores, supercenters, chain drug stores and warehouse clubs -- their ascendancy is slipping.

The shift is generally only one to two percent of annual shopping trips between calendar year 2004 and a recently ended 2008/2009 12-month period Nielsen used for comparison, but that's a significant change given how many times consumers in the United States visit stores each year. Between the two periods cited, women went from conducting 75 percent of the shopping trips in dollar stores to 73 percent, 74 percent in mass/discount to 72 percent, 70 percent in supercenters to 69 percent, 66 percent in drug stores to 65 percent, 63 percent in warehouse clubs to 61 percent and 63 percent in grocery stores to 61 percent. In convenience stores, where men have traditionally been the majority shoppers, women's share of shopping trips fell from 46 percent in 2004 to 45 percent in 2008/9.

One thing hasn't changed, though. In every retail sector, women spend more per average shopping trip and that gap seems to be widening, even in convenience stores. In 2004 men spent $10.35 during an a convenience store trip while women spent $13.86, a $3.51 difference, but by the 2008/2009 period, men spent $16 and women $20.34, a $4.34 difference. The dissimilarity between the genders was particularly pronounced in the supercenter sector where in 2004 women spent $60.16 on a shopping trip while men spent $45.36, for a difference of $14.80. In 2008/2009, women spent $69.12 per trip while men spent $52.25, a difference of $16.87.

Despite that, men's spending at retail clearly is increasing. Peter Leimbach, vice president of multimedia sales research at ESPN, who penned the report based on Nielsen and other research, noted that, over a five-year span, men substantially increasing their average dollar spend per shopping visit across all channels. In grocery, men boosted spending by an especially noteworthy 56 percent in the period.

Men's share of spending also is growing across all retail segments while women's share has declined. Men's share of dollars spent increased from 30 percent to 38 percent, or by 27 percent, over the five year period while women's declined by 11 percent.

The influence of male shoppers is appreciated in certain sectors of retailing. For example, the shift in home fashion that has occurred at mass-market retailers in recent years, one that introduced more menswear-derived styles, came from a recognition that guys were assuming a veto power over what looks were coming into the home, shaking off bedspreads that were too ruffled and wallpaper that was too flowery. Overwhelmingly dominant traditional styles, with their blue and white colors and floral patterns, began to give way to brown and charcoal hues and neat stripes. Even that epitome of tradition, Martha Stewart, began to introduce more contemporary elements into her collections at Kmart and elsewhere. None of that would have happened if men hadn't had enough interest to be in the stores when women made their selections as, once at home, a purchase is to hard to unmake.