When I tell people that my job is studying women’s shopping patterns, you can’t imagine the jokes I hear.  Most of them revolve around the stereotype that women have an insatiable appetite for shoes, handbags and sparkly things.   Oh, if only it were so simple, I say.  And then I bring down the hammer and tell them the real reason women shop so much.  That’s when the jokes stop and the conversation gets a lot more interesting.

After all, understanding why women buy is the first step to gaining their business.

The real reason is sobering.  In virtually every society in the world, women have primary care-giving responsibilities for both children and the elderly (and often, just about everybody else in-between). In this primary caregiving role, women find themselves buying on behalf of everyone else in their lives.

The list is long: in addition to buying for themselves, women buy on behalf of husbands, partners, kids, colleagues, adult children, friends, relatives, elderly parents, in-laws, their businesses and even their kids’ friends, to name just a few.  If somebody, somewhere needs a gift, chances are there’s a woman thinking about it; tracking it down; wrapping it; making sure it’s accompanied by a personal message and then arriving to the person on the appointed day.   I sometimes think entire industries would collapse overnight if women stopped being so thoughtful.  Consider the impact to the greeting card industry alone.

What does this mean to you? If you’re in a consumer business, it means that women are multiple markets in one.  They are the gateway to everybody else.  What a compelling reason to study the impact of gender in the sales and marketing process. Every time you deliver great service to a woman, she has a multiplier effect on your business because she represents a broad range of other potential customers, and will likely tell people about the great service you offer.

Wherever you are on the journey of optimizing sales and marketing for women consumers, keep these three strategies in mind:

Address Her “Invisible Others”

Women constantly evaluate how their purchases might impact the people they care about most.   It’s important to address these absent influencers during the sales process by finding out who else will be using the product.  By doing so, you may be able to overcome hidden barriers to the sale.

Study Gender as You Would a Foreign Market

Women and men grow up within a culture of their own gender, each with its own codes of conduct, speaking styles and expectations for personal interaction.  Studying the impact of gender on purchasing preferences is still uncommon enough to make it a powerful advantage for your business.  Chances are, your competitors are overlooking this.

Create an Emotional Connection

Because women buy on behalf of so many other people, their purchasing decisions often carry more emotional weight.  Ensure that your marketing makes an emotional connection with the women you’re targeting, because a purely functional sell can fall flat.  Having a gender-balanced marketing team will help you better identify the communication nuances that will make women think, “these people understand my life.”

Make no mistake: there is nothing wrong with shoes, handbags or sparkly things (I assure you they are all welcome in this writer’s closet), but it’s critical to stay grounded in the real reasons women buy, or you risk being viewed as tone-deaf in your marketing.   Because no matter how fast technology advances or how frequently people change the way they shop, one thing remains the same: women are the shoppers of this world, and understanding why she buys is the best insurance policy there is.

By – Bridget Brennan – Forbes Magazine

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