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April 7, 2013

Men vs. Women Shoppers

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Attention shoppers. Scientists have confirmed what many of us already know, and have experienced this holiday season. That is, most men buy, but most women shop. However as this ScienCentral News video shows, the researchers also found this mind-set impacts what the shoppers think about next.

The Difference is Just the Beginning

Maria and Frank Stucke have been married for 31 years.

"We're best friends," explains Maria.

They say that's why they are able to shop together-- despite the fact that they shop very differently. Maria likes to browse and Frank likes to quickly get the item he needs. But when they're together, he patiently lets her look.

Stanford University researcher S. Christian Wheeler wanted to study how different people respond differently to experiences like clothes shopping — but he also wanted to see if that response could influence the next unrelated decision they make. So he started with the stereotype of how people shop and conducted an Internet survey of men and women.

Fact or Fiction?

"We showed very strong differences between men and women and their shopping behaviors," says Wheeler.

He found that 75 percent of women browsed until they had seen most of the things in the store compared to only 33 percent of men.

"It shows that women engage in what we call more "possibility driven" shopping behavior when they shop for clothing, Wheeler says. "They're more likely to go shopping when they don't have any particular item that they need, whereas men have the opposite pattern. We call this "purpose driven," where men are much more likely to go shopping only when they need a single item and they go in the store and they pick up that single item and they leave right away without browsing for other items."

Decisions, Decisions

Wheeler hypothesized that being in these possibility- or purpose-driven mindsets might influence how people made subsequent, unrelated decisions. And he was right.

He asked one group of men and women to write about shopping and another control group wrote about a different topic. Then, in a supposedly unrelated test, he had both groups make unrelated choices, like what kind of route they would choose if they had to make a cross-country trip for a friend.

The women who had written about shopping chose the scenic route, or possibility-driven option, whereas thoughts of shopping influenced men in the opposite way.

"Men were more likely to choose these purpose-driven options — taking the direct route on a cross country trip," Wheeler says.

But men and women in the control groups did not show these results.

"Previous research has shown that people tend to respond pretty similarly when you activate things that they have shared associations with," Wheeler says.

But his study shows that "this can work in different ways for different people depending on the types of associations they have with the object. And so just thinking about clothes shopping doesn't make everyone act in exactly the same way. In fact it makes men and women act in exactly the opposite ways."

"This might suggest one reason why even a though a lot of behavior is changed without our intention or awareness, you still observe such heterogeneity of behavior in your every day world."

He adds, "This has important implications because often times we make long term decisions that are based upon things that are activated in our mind at that moment."

Wheeler says that before we make a big decision we might consider putting ourselves in an environment with less possibility of bias. But he says that's easier said than done because many of the associations we have to a stimulus are subconscious.

Publication: Journal of Consumer Research, October 2007.
Co-Author: Jonan Berger, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Study funded by: Stanford Graduate School of Business

       email to a friend by Sunita Reed

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