Be Careful What You Ask For

In “Move over Mom: Dad is the New Gatekeeper” Part 1 and Part 2, Richard’s premise is that a higher percentage of toy and game buying decisions are being made by men than in the past, and this shift might require changes in marketing strategies. The basis for the premise consisted of a survey sponsored by Yahoo, which concluded that about 51% of men say they have primary responsibility for the grocery shopping.

From my consumer psychologist perspective, there are important points here. First is the value in attending to the different shopping patterns of men and women. In the U.S. at least, it’s likely husbands will be doing more of the shopping than previously, and when a wife does the shopping, she’s likely to bring along family and/or friends.

MattelMagicEightBall The logic behind the changes is reflected in an analysis conducted at University of New Hampshire: During the U.S. economic downturn, husbands were more likely to lose their jobs than were wives, and now, husbands are encountering more difficulty than wives in finding employment. As a result, a higher percentage of wives than in the past are finding it necessary, in order to pay the bills, to enter the labor force or to expand their work hours. They’d prefer to be home more with family, but that’s not feasible. One likely consequence of this is that more household responsibilities, including shopping, are being handled by the husbands.

There are broad individual differences among male shoppers and among female shoppers, but a solid body of research finds that, overall, men tend to think about shopping and conduct themselves as shoppers differently than do women. Studies at Stanford University conclude that male shoppers are more purpose-driven, while women are more possibilities-driven. Men are less interested in browsing and are less price sensitive than are women.

Along with this, women are more likely to find emotional comfort from shopping than are men. Now let’s put this together with the indications that, in general, working wives will long for time with family and friends. When the wife does do the shopping, she’ll want to bring along others.

A second important point to remember, though, is that the best of the research indicates these trends are less than monumental in magnitude. In fact, the Yahoo survey findings are probably misleading. Saatchi & Saatchi X says 35%, not 51%, of grocery and mass-merchandise shoppers are men.

So what’s going on? It’s all in how the question is asked. The Yahoo survey item asked who did most of the shopping. It omitted the alternative of shared responsibility. When The Future Company’s Yankelovich MONITOR asked about the matter differently, 34% of men ages 18 to 64 said they have primary responsibility, and 52% said they have shared responsibility. Among the women, 64% said they have primary shopping responsibility, and 30% said they share the responsibility.

Yes, there’s probably a trend toward the men taking on toy shopping responsibilities. But the primary responsibility still appears to be clearly with the women.

The more general point is to attend to how survey questions are phrased. “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it” is a good motto for toy shoppers. For toy retailers, a better motto is, “Be careful what you ask for. The answers might mislead you.”

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