Targeting Male Grocery Shoppers

Discussion
Jun 04, 2007
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

While some men are as savvy in shopping the supermarket as any women, a large group are confused, lost and anxiety-ridden, according to Retail Forward.

TNS Retail Forward’s Shopper Perspectives program recently explored male shopping in grocery stores. Besides an increasing percentage of single men shopping for groceries, the study found more males in couple-households walking grocery aisles because families are “trying to fill too many to-do lists in too little time,” said Mandy Putnam, vice president and director of ShopperScape, Retail Forward’s monthly shopper survey, in a recent webinar.

According to a ShopperScape survey, 18 percent of grocery shoppers are men shopping alone. (Women shopping alone make up 60 percent; couples, 22 percent.)

The study – based on a survey and in-store observance – particularly focused on the sorriest lot: men in couple households shopping alone. These men particularly go to the grocery for fill-in trips (3.4 out of ten trips in couple households) over stock-up trips (2.3 out of ten).

Among the findings: men in general place a higher priority on location and convenience, especially for fill-trips; they care more about in-stock positions than women; and don’t particularly like loyalty cards. On the upside, men often vary from the list, creating impulse buy opportunities for grocers. On the downside, they’ll skip items they can’t find, and blame the store for being out of stock.

Indeed, perhaps the most revealing details came in the confusion many men endure comprehending shopping lists and getting lost in the layout of the supermarket. Among the behavior patterns seen in men shopping alone were:

  • Circling back – Typically happens when the shopping list isn’t organized
    according to how the store is laid out. Some men do one final sweep of every
    aisle at the end of the shopping trip;
  • Confused in center-store aisles – Men
    particularly feel overwhelmed in areas such as cereal sections housing
    multiple categories;
  • Focused on narrow target – Akin to the hunter versus
    gatherer metaphor, men home in on their target very quickly, often paying
    little attention to overhead signs for direction;
  • Needing directions but
    not fessing up
    – Men will typically not buy an item they can’t find, and
    often tell the wife the item was out of stock rather than admitting he
    couldn’t find it;
  • Phone home – Men frequently phone their wives to make sure
    they don’t make mistakes;
  • Checking out – When doing fill-in shopping, self-checkout
    is preferred. This often creates a problem for shopping with loyalty cards
    because most men generally don’t want to lug them around.

Among the ways to better serve male grocery shoppers, Retail Forward suggests maintaining sufficient stock levels, especially on advertised items; providing more incentives not based on store loyalty cards; and leveraging opportunities to create brand preference, i.e. making coupons available at the shelves

Many of Retail Forward’s solutions are related to solving men’s anxieties around grocery shopping. These included designing rational store adjacencies where similar items are grouped together, making typical fill-in trip items easily accessible, giving list makers a way to organize those lists according to store layout, installing an item locator for those men who don’t ask questions, and building cell-phone friendly stores for men who have to phone home.

“Lists are necessary evils and men need help dealing with them,” say Ms. Putnam.

Discussion Questions: Should supermarkets rethink how they serve male grocery shoppers? If yes, what adjustments do you see stores making to better serve male shoppers? Would these adjustments help stores to better serve women, as well?

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29 Comments on "Targeting Male Grocery Shoppers"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Most supermarket shoppers, men and women, don’t like having to hunt. When a supermarket changes its layout, most shoppers complain. Because men shop less frequently, they’re less likely to remember the layout, so the frustration level is higher. Making things easy to find helps all shoppers, not just men. Grocery display decisions aren’t always obvious. Should the organic be displayed along with the rest? Should categories be brand-driven? How much signage is just clutter? The frequent shopper card burden is easier to solve, because stores can use technology to look up shopper numbers and/or link credit and debit cards to frequent shopper numbers.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
12 years 1 month ago

Wow, somebody hit a nerve! Interesting that we talk about target marketing to every type of ethnic group and demographic imaginable on a regular basis, without this type of reaction.

Here’s a question, if men make or influence 40% of supermarket purchases, why do those in the supermarket industry in many reports and presentations refer to the shopper as “she”? It’s great to go after your primary shopper in a big way, but don’t forget secondary opportunities like this.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
12 years 1 month ago

The issues of the male shopper reflect what women shoppers have been asking for over the past many years!

Do grocers go back to square one and take care of the major sales driver first? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm

Ben Ball
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

In today’s digitally conditioned world, why not take the obvious step of creating a digitized store layout in a kiosk or other interactive tool? Most men are probably more comfortable with their GPS than their grocery store anyway! Let me enter my items via a number of common lookup techniques (first letter, category, etc.) and hot spot the locations in the store for me. Then give me a handheld or a shopping cart device (if I want it) that can download the “hotspots” and take me there just like my GPS takes me to the restaurant. I’m not unintelligent–I’m just out of my element!

James Tenser
Guest
12 years 1 month ago
I empathize with several folks above who take umbrage at the unfair depiction of men as grocery shopping incompetents. It’s true, isn’t it, that our industry commonly refers to the supermarket shopper as “she.” What insights does that assumption cause us to overlook? Whose competency is really in question here–male shoppers or those of us who fail to merchandise according to their wants and needs? Recognizing gender differences in attitude and behavior offers another useful dimension for analyzing trip types and need states. (This need not be sexist, any more than other types of demographic analyses are racist or ageist.) If men are more likely to make fill-in trips or weekend trips that involve bulky items, then our present frequent-shopper card data may be masking the behavior of households who “divide” and conquer the food-shopping chores. If we consider many men to be less frequent or less experienced shoppers, then actions in the store that improve way-finding or product organization for all will help those men a bit more. This discussion once again underscores how… Read more »
Douglas Robinson
Guest
Douglas Robinson
12 years 1 month ago

I fit that profile nicely. I get to the store with a list of $80 in grocery items, spend $130, and still don’t get all the things on the list. My wife makes the list and I wander endlessly looking for items or for someone to ask.

I’d like to see stores put the same effort into developing a web page for “on-line shopping list creation” as they are putting into “on-line shopping for delivery”. My wife could select products from an on-line inventory list, and the “detailed” list would be automatically reorganized by aisle & traffic patterns. Then if I come home with the wrong mayonnaise, it’s her fault. I’d change store loyalty in a heartbeat for that, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Unfortunately, the majority of stores use planograms to record product locations, of which most are not digital. For a lot of the stores, making shopping men-friendly will require some upgrades. For the grocery industry consultants out there, here’s a project worth some effort.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
12 years 1 month ago
Grocery store management who feel they must consume acres of space and stock every product known to man on their shelves have created this problem. Dissatisfaction and frustration with grocery shopping are neither a “guy thing” or a “girl thing.” As far as I can see, it is a “human thing” and it is fairly widespread. Stores which operate an environment where a navigation system is almost required for shoppers to find the products they want, and where shoppers literally need to wear walking shoes because of the great distance they must traverse in order to fill their carts, are, in effect, disrespecting their customers. Unfortunately, many stores still seem convinced they are providing their customers the broadest and most convenient shopping experience possible. What a disconnect! When I finally found a store with a manageable layout, a reasonable size, an efficient checkout system, and helpful employees I became a loyal customer even though I do end up driving a little further and paying a bit more. I figure my time and sanity are worth… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Sorry, guys, can’t resist coming back in on this as you are all being so very very earnest. My suggestion that helpless men in supermarkets should grow up was a reference to the fact that most men–as indicated by the comments in this discussion–are perfectly capable of being sensible human beings who understand shopping. I’m sure that when you have to cope, you can and do. What always worries/bemuses me is that, given half a chance, many of you choose not to. (And by the way, does anyone else wonder why there are so few female contributions to this discussion? Or why the research quoted was conducted by a woman?)

Andrea Learned
Guest
Andrea Learned
12 years 1 month ago

All of the suggestions listed in the article would likely be appreciated by women as well as men. Maybe the idea is to just keep working toward serving the highest common denominator/standards and grocery retailers would be on the money for men/women, tall/short, frequent/infrequent, fill-in/stock-up shopping trips?

No matter who is grocery shopping, it is a pain–and difficult to find things. I like the above-mentioned idea about how stores might help customers create online lists (with a shelving/map route). I have a lot of industrious friends with big families and too-many weekly shopping trips who have already made those spreadsheets for themselves.

Lois Huff
Guest
Lois Huff
12 years 1 month ago
This research was not sexist, but segment-ist. It is amazing that people are up in arms because Ms. Putnam suggested targeted approaches for a specific shopping segment. Anyone who has ever conducted and applied shopper research knows that different segments have different pain points. Moreover, a solution targeting one segment may indeed benefit many others, such as women or single men–but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that some segments require specific solutions that are better aligned with their pain points. I agree with a prior commenter that few would likely challenge these findings if they were focused on a race or age segment. Also, the answer to meeting the pain points of men is not to tell them to change their ways or “grow up” (as was suggested in a previous comment), but to do our job! We need to be the ones changing our outmoded attitudes and approaches. Bottom line: if the supermarket industry would try to understand and better respond to the needs of specific shopper segments such as men (and others), these… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
12 years 1 month ago
More than half of all households in the U.S. are single-person, and logic tells us that about half (of the more-than-half) of these HHs are populated by men. So, this seems workable: About 30% of all HHs are populated by one man. If this is true, how do they feed themselves? Perhaps they shop. Added to this number of shoppers are multi-person HHs where men are also the primary shoppers. Thus, an arbitrary estimate that men comprise about 35% of all primary supermarket shoppers seems reasonable. (Of course, this considers that “primary shoppers” are item/brand decision-makers, and that this 35% figure does not translate to 35% of all supermarket dollars spent–women feeding families spend the most.) On the basis of this simple logic alone, I question the findings of this study. For the same reasons that TV sitcoms misrepresent American fathers, this study misrepresents American male shoppers. Why? Maybe because it’s fun and it’s a big target. To wit: “Circling back” happens to all shoppers, especially those who are smart and who are accompanied by… Read more »
Steven Roelofs
Guest
Steven Roelofs
12 years 1 month ago

One thing that has always amazed me is the lack of maps/floor plans in grocery stores, like you might find in a department store. I don’t really want to have to ask an associate where I can find every item on my list. I just need a map, so I know that muffins are in the middle of aisle 8 on the left and butter is in aisle 12 at the end along with eggs. This really isn’t that hard of a problem to fix – provided the store manager doesn’t keep rearranging items ad nauseam.

Mark Burr
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Congratulations to Mandy Putnum for getting paid by someone to state the obvious–or is it so obvious? Is anything said here truly in relationship solely to men? Or, is it the same thing that’s been said for and about supermarkets for generations?

Steve Martin used to have a line in his comedy routines that went like this: “The most amazing thing to me is–I get paid for doing this!”

The reality is, there is always loose money somewhere to generate revenue for consultants that document what is clearly obvious, and furthermore, get retailers to buy it with full intentions of doing nothing in response. Wait, I take that back! They will do something–they will speak to it.

And I just did as well. What an industry!

David Livingston
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Supermarkets don’t need to change just to appeal to men. Actually I think if the above story would have replaced the word “men” with the word “women” it would be more believable. I suggest readers re-read the above story doing just that and see what you conclude.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Gee–this couldn’t have been more sexist, could it? In most cases (direction asking excepted), these behaviors could be ascribed to anyone shopping in a new environment. And we should assume that the 20% of shoppers who are males shopping alone are not all confused. No–supermarkets shouldn’t target them specifically, especially with the rather tepid suggestions offered.

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
12 years 1 month ago
I do our grocery shopping so I am speaking from personal experience. There are at least two things grocery stores can do to help male shoppers: 1. Have enough knowledgeable sales associates on the floor available to help find something. Typically, men want to get the things they came to buy and get out. This is not a pleasure trip for them. Last time I went to Albertsons, I was impressed. A sales lady actually walked over with me to the particular aisle and the section instead of simply telling me to look in aisle so and so. This is what I call respect for the customer. So far as impulse buying goes, yes, I would buy on an impulse only if I come across an item. I will not go browsing the store. I just do not have the time. 2. Have enough checkout counters manned by real persons. I hate to go through “self-check” with a bag full of green beans or tomatoes, not knowing what kind of tomatoes they are as they… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
12 years 1 month ago
First, congratulations to Mandy Putnam, for a very revealing and worthwhile ShopperScape study on the gender of grocery shoppers and some valuable consumer behavior research results: I found it especially interesting not only that 18% of the shoppers are men, but that 22% are couples, which means that men are likely to be involved in more than 40% to 42% of all shopping trips to the supermarket, leaving open the possibility that a small minority of the couples could possibly be same-gender. Even at 40% this means that men are a highly significant shopper in numbers. My opinion is that supermarkets could stand some improvements in organization and categorization and here are just a couple of examples: The cereal aisle needs to be categorized better first by brand, then type, then size. All too often we’re seeing size, type, and lastly brand. Cereals are very brand-recognized. Admittedly, even though I’m in the consumer packaged goods business and spend so many hours of my life in supermarkets, I’m in a heap of trouble when my wife… Read more »
Zel Bianco
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

I am not afraid to ask for help in finding an item and often do ask. The problem is that many employees of the store are also confused and are sometimes clueless as to where things are. This also includes store managers who really should know where everything is. Maybe someone that really knows the store and its inventory should be the Mr. or Mrs. answer person who could quickly bring us to those hard to find items and send us off to the express yourself line for a fast exit and move on to the next victim.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
12 years 1 month ago
Excellent study and interesting data. I agree with what I think you are saying, Stephen: this reveals weaknesses that are ALWAYS in stores–the most familiar shoppers will have long forgotten how poorly laid out a store is or how frustrating it used to be to find what you want. Having a way for customers to find what they want is a real problem when you carry so many SKUs–and every item fits into multiple categories. We have found that the grocery industry no longer feels this is a problem because it has been a problem for so long and no one has found a solution. Of course, a solution exists, but no one is looking for it any more. Layout and finding what you want fall into the “customer service” category in our own data, and this data shows that very few stores perform well (over 70%) on that metric. I agree, this isn’t about men or woman, it is about a particular group revealing some long-standing weaknesses in basic store concepts, concepts that were… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Stephen is right–this is a remarkably sexist piece. But it did significantly raise the bar for “Consultant-speak.” The new king of retail jargon is “rational store adjacencies” which for us confused male shoppers means ‘put all the breakfast cereal in one place’.

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Two suggestions:

1 – Train the people in the store to know where items are located. Too many stores stock at night and the daytime personnel are not as well versed as the people who actually put up the stock! (As an old time stock boy, I could take you to every item in the store!)

2 – Have item locators available in high traffic areas. We men would rather interact with a machine than break down and actually ask for help!

Dale Collie
Guest
Dale Collie
12 years 1 month ago
Did it ever occur to you that some women might also benefit from having visible signage inside the aisle and along the meat and dairy sections? While some men and women are in the store to browse, not everyone cares to look at every can on the shelf to find the specific items needed. And, let’s get the price per ounce thing straightened out. Who wants to do the math to compare a price per ounce with a price per serving? There’s little brand loyalty for the shopper who doesn’t know the difference between store brands and nationally advertised items. If you really want to get me into your store, put the fill-in shopping items near the front of the store. I’m not walking across a crowded parking lot and then to the rear of a 10 acre grocery store for a gallon of milk, even if the convenience store charges twice as much. Grocers know which items are on the typical fill in list, and it wouldn’t take a genius to put them in… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

Oh, yes, let’s solve men’s anxieties. Easy peasy–let them off the hook and make sure they all have a little woman available to do it for them. (Interpret that as you will.) Please give yourselves a sharp Monday afternoon slap on the wrist for even daring to suggest that the best solutions are to improve the lists that WOMEN provide, create RATIONAL layouts for the poor dumb creatures and send them off into a private corner somewhere to phone home. Alternatively, you could just encourage them to grow up.

Paul Waldron
Guest
Paul Waldron
12 years 1 month ago

These are all excellent ideas to improve the shopping experience. Incentives not tied to loyalty cards and coupons at the shelf may be especially important to male shoppers.

All the other ideas are really nothing new–and should be done by most retailers.

Advertised items in sufficient quantities? What a concept! Although, you see this all the time where sale items are SOLD OUT. As a past Wal-Mart Store Manager, a lifetime ago, I can attest that managing “out of stocks” on advertised items was a huge issue and a never ending process.

Rational adjacencies? This is merchandising 101, of course you want to think like the average consumer when laying out your floor plan as well as taking advantage of related sales and companion buys. What makes a store cell phone friendly?

Barry Wise
Guest
Barry Wise
12 years 1 month ago

Investing in changes to make the supermarket environment more male friendly doesn’t make sense in most locations. Supermarket operators need to depend on their demographics to understand who is shopping their stores, and where they have higher percentages of males shopping alone, they may want to experiment and determine the impact of modifying their stores to be more “male friendly.”

s sarkauskas
Guest
12 years 1 month ago
Actual part time grocery store worker replying here. Although not as bad as portrayed on TV or perhaps in this report, large clumps of shoppers DO fall into these stereotypes. As a cashier, I have quite a bit of fun reading shoppers before they’ve even opened their mouth, both men and women, and can pick out certain situations and types. (For one, men are much less picky about how their groceries are bagged.) You can tell by what’s on the conveyor belt pretty much who is the single woman, the middle-aged couples who don’t have children at home, the people who have teenagers, the widowed older man, the divorced father shopping for the weekend, the single guy who is living with a girlfriend vs. his buddy who isn’t. It is especially fun at the holidays, when the 60 percent of men who aren’t regular grocery shoppers are “sent to the store” to get some things for the wife cooking the holiday dinner at home. They have a deer-in-the-headlights look, standing there holding a scrap of… Read more »
Mandy Putnam
Guest
Mandy Putnam
12 years 1 month ago

The Men in Grocery Stores report reflects findings from quantitative and qualitative research including in-store observations of shopping behavior and shop-along surveys. The findings did not compare and contrast male vs. female behavior in grocery stores.

As many people have pointed out, the observed shopping behaviors and expressed feelings are not necessarily unique to men but reflective of obstacles that shoppers–in this case men–face during their shopper journeys in grocery stores and supercenters.

While the conclusions and recommendations seem obvious, the reality is that many grocers fail to address important needs of a large population of shoppers. Many are not doing their jobs as effective editors of merchandise and facilitators of the shopper journey. Why not test some simple solutions such as store maps? Why not review the “Retailing 101 checklist for success” again?

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
12 years 1 month ago

“provided the store manager doesn’t keep rearranging items ad nauseam.”

I’ve been resisting the urge all day–but since you brought it up, I notice we spend a ton of money and energy on communications and training aimed at building customer loyalty and making sure our people recognizing the lifetime value of a customer.

And then, periodically, we hide all the things she (or he)’s used to buying every week in places she (or he)’d never think to look for them.

How does that add to sales?

John Franco
Guest
12 years 1 month ago

If you replace “men” with “people who don’t shop in your store that frequently” I think this article would be a lot more useful. This study misses the point that customers are struggling to adapt to an unfamiliar (and sometimes badly designed) environment by focusing on the fact that many of those customers share the same gender.

I shopped in a grocery store 10 years ago that had a handy reference list right on the cart which listed the aisle numbers for most of the major items. I don’t see that any more. Forget anything digital, let’s get the analog sorted out first! For that matter, how about expanding the signs hanging above each aisle to contain more items? Or making them digital, which would make them both updateable and easier to read.

More “cell phone friendly” is not a far-fetched suggestion. One grocery store I used to frequent had a dead spot that was almost half the store. A small thing, but definitely annoying.

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