Men are from Sears; Women are from the mall: Stockpiling, shopping, and gender


I went shopping with my husband the other day. This was a rare occurrence, the sort of thing that happens with the same frequency as the passing of Halley's Comet. He needed jeans and casual shirts to replace the fraying college sweatshirt he insists on dragging out during weekends, so to the Gap Outlet we went.

Once we arrived, I meandered over to a tantalizing display of cable-knit sweaters while he strode purposefully towards the men's wear. A mere ten minutes later he had finished, and victoriously marched towards the register with an armload of identical crewnecks in multiple colors and a single pair of jeans. I, on the other hand, was still considering a red cardigan, black tights, leopard ballet flats, a gold belt, grey jeans, two long-sleeved tees and a pile of socks.

Back in December, the New York Times examined the shopping habits of men, and came to the conclusion that men stockpile and women shop. The article profiled sixteen men, some of whom are employed in the fashion industry as designers, style bloggers and magazine editors, and described their buying habits. Designer Billy Reid confessed to buying "three or four" pairs of identical Levis at a time. Gabe Schulman, contributor to Thestyleblogger, explained that he loved the cut of a particular pair of pants so much that he bought four identical pairs. And tattoo artist Scott Campbell told of his infatuation with plain old black Gold Toe socks, of which he purchases in bulk.

When I shop, I'm perfectly content to meander through sprawling displays or detour through the shoe department. I give little thought to stopping at a cosmetics counter for a quick spray of perfume before, maybe, making a purchase. In contrast, Wharton Business School research has discovered that men regard shopping as a mission and are much less inclined to browse and wander. In general, men intend to buy a targeted item and flee the store as quickly as possible.

In a study titled, "Men Buy, Women Shop," researchers at Wharton's Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative and the Verde Group, a Toronto consulting firm, found that men are more likely to respond to more utilitarian aspects of the shopping experience than women are - such as the availability of parking, whether the item they came for is in stock, and the length of the checkout line. However, Women place more value on the attention of customer sales associates, and whether associates are readily available to help when needed.

One female shopper between the ages of 18 and 35 told the researchers: "I love shopping. I love shopping even when I have a deadline. I just love shopping." Compare that to this response from a male in the same age group who described how men approach retailing: "We're going to this store and we buy it and we leave because we want to do something else."

I believe most men shop like they're smartbombs dropped from F-22's. They're tactical. They have lists. If they walk into a mall, they usually know exactly where they're going and what they're buying. They are concerned with durability and comfort because if the item lasts, they can shop less often. These men generally don't pay attention to what's trendy. They don't go from store to store to store. They don't wander aimlessly. They want to get in, buy what they need, and get out.That's it.

This utilitarian shopping philosophy easily explains the tendency of some men to stockpile favorite pieces. However, I also know women who dread going shopping, and negotiate the need for new clothes with both online ordering and purchasing multiple pieces of the same item in different colors. The tricky fit of certain pieces, such as jeans and undergarments, may also encourage a shopper of either gender to stockpile. My own stockpile of J Brand jeans is a testament to my preference towards their fit.

The Times article led me to wonder if gender differences in shopping habits really are as concrete as the piece suggests. Do you consider yourself a stockpiler when it comes to shopping? Do you prefer to wander and browse, or are you focused on buying what you need and leaving when finished?


14 comments:

  1. For the most part shopping frustrates me. Whether it's sizing/fit issues, availability of items, pricing/budget restrictions or just the energy it takes to actually go shopping; the only time I ever really enjoy shopping is when I'm thrifting. And then it's less like shopping and more like looking for treasure.

    I think women and men are socialised to approach shopping differently too. Shopping is definitely viewed as an inherently feminine act and I think a lot of men are uncomfortable with it for that reason.

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  2. I would consider myself a little of both. I like to wander and browse without being hurried or on a deadline. But if I find something I like (in my case Hudson jeans) I tend to buy several items, perhaps in different colors, because I know they fit well and I'll wear them frequently.

    My boyfriend sounds like the utilitarian shopper though for sure! He HATES shopping so when he does it, he gets what he needs for the next century and then calls it quits.

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  3. Love this post, I tend to agree with these surveys. Though most guys I know only buy one pair of jeans at a time (because they're dirt broke), but it's always the same pair of nice jeans. Worn till they fall apart, and then the same pair is purchased again.
    I think there is something to be learned from men though. If there is one great staple I tend to buy at least one additional version of it. Even with shoes. I learned that the hard way. I had the ultimate comfy pair of black suede heels and should have bought multiple pairs, because I wore them all the time. I mourned their demise.

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  4. I don't wander. Maybe if I had money for purchases, I would be more inclined to shop, but maybe not. I know what I want, go in the store, try the item on, and buy it or not. The end. "Just looking" bores me silly. I do, however, try to pay attention to what is current. I also, when I can afford it, stockpile hard-to-fit items. I have no problem looking like I'm wearing the same pants/shoes/whatever all week.

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  5. I am now going to justify my habit of buying multiples of things that work well on me by saying "I shop like a dude". For example I totally love the styles and toe profiles of this year's Fidji shoes so I bought three pairs. If I like a top in blue print, I will also like it the orange and the green print, and so I might as well get them all. Etc. I definitely target particular stores and brands because I know their stuff works for me, and I don't deviate from mission objectives -- I can't bear to wander the whole mall aimlessly and large department stores with their vast array of stuff to look through often frazzle me enough that I pass through quickly without buying anything. I am totally a dude when it comes to shopping.

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  6. In terms of the typical man/woman shopper, I am from Mars, my boyfriend is from Venus. He ADORES shopping. ANY kind. Even groceries. A true anomaly. I'll keep him.
    He DOES do the "buy in multiple" thing. When his 81 Toyota truck died, he got another -- SAME year, model and color.

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  7. Shopping with my husband of many years is like
    shopping with a grumpy two year old. Just went through this last week shopping for him with him. He does seem happy with the clothes though.

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  8. I love this post! It is SO true: I have to take my boyfriend shopping twice a year, as he hates the whole experience (unlike me who hardly ever doesn't shop!!) and just buys the wrong thing in the wrong size. He says my helping him has changed his life: he tells me what he needs beforehand, I scope a few shops for him to see what might suit and then we go hit them up together - I pick out a few likely sizes and styles and he walks away adequately clad. He definitely stockpiles, going as far as buying the same exact sneakers for the last few years in multiple pairs... guys!!!


    http://www.cakesandshakes.wordpress.com

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  9. I saw a comedy years ago that "explained" this phemonenon as a residue from stone age when men were hunters, always focused on their prey and women gathered berries and nuts and plans. And as freaky as it sounded it made a lot of sense.

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  10. I love to meander shop. I do not shop with a purpose because it never ends well. This is because I am always broke and I am built oddly. Also the fact that I have an equally odd taste in clothes and shoes doesn't help either. But on the rare occasion that I do find a staple item (i.e. jeans) that I like and feel good in I will do everything with in my power to buy multiples of it. So I guess that this means that I am a cross between a man and woman when it comes to shopping. I am 100% female by the way.....I just happen to be built like a drag queen.

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  11. This cracked me up, simply because I had to deal with this last week with my husband. We went to the mall, and I made the mistake of telling him I was looking for tights. From that point on, he was like a sheepdog, 'herding' me out of each store when I didn't find what I wanted, instead of just browsing through all the other things I didn't need. I can't begrudge him too much, I guess; it's just how he's wired!

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  12. haha so true. I don't like shopping with my dad or brother because they are done in 10 minutes meanwhile I want to peruse. I hardly ever buy in bulk unless it's socks. I'll maybe buy 2 at most of a shirt I like, like a cotton tee.

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  13. Because I'm tall and largesse, I tend to stockpile clothing when I find items that work, but I do love to shop.

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  14. LOL @ "men stockpile and women shop." It's true that more women like to go out and shop compared to their male counterparts, and because of that, they are better at mixing and matching different clothes for different occasions. :)

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