Who Controls America’s Purse Strings?

Discussion
Apr 29, 2011
George Anderson

A study released earlier this year by Yahoo found that a
variety of duties generally assumed to be done by women were quite often done
by men. Fifty-one percent of men involved in the research, for example, claimed
to be the primary shopper for their household’s grocery needs.

An article
in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week took issue with the commonly used
figure that 80 percent of household spending in the U.S. is controlled by women.

Ira
Mayer, publisher of Marketing to Women, told the Journal, "There is never
any sourcing of the number. It’s become accepted folklore."

A survey of
nearly 4,000 Americans 16 and older last year by Futures Co. found that 37
percent of women said they are the primary person responsible for shopping
decisions in their homes. Similarly, 31 percent of men said they were the primary
person. Eighty-five percent of women and 84 percent of men said they shared
the primary responsibility.

Discussion Questions: Is it still important for marketers to understand who “controls” household purchasing decisions or is the concept an anachronism from another era? Has the definition of “household” changed so much that using it as a metric is perhaps no longer as useful? In your opinion, how prevalent is the mindset among retailers and marketers that they’re selling primarily to women decision makers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "Who Controls America’s Purse Strings?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 8 days ago

The survey neglected to add that somewhere between 20% and 30% of the male respondents were lying. Okay, so of course it is important to know who your customers are. My wife and I split the grocery shopping, but when I shop, no way are 51% of the people in the store men. Gimme a break. Who could even read the 51% number in Yahoo’s survey without a hoot and a guffaw? I don’t object to ads that are clearly targeted to women; I do object to them treating women (and men, for that matter) like blooming idiots. Having said that, I do confess that my wife and I entertain each other regularly on the couch, making catty and snide remarks about the commercials. Excellent foreplay.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
10 years 8 days ago

It’s important that the research is right about who does the shopping. I see a lot of men out there when I buy the family groceries. Very often they are by themselves with a very purposeful look on there face.

Women, on the other hand, usually seem to have a child or two in tow and seem distracted. And I think it has been shown they are more open to impulse purchases.

If my primary shoppers are male, I’d design a purposeful, efficient store. If they are women, I’d make it kid friendly and fill it with distractions and temptations.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 8 days ago

Here’s a question that has arrived only forty or so years too late.

The notion of what constitutes a household, the socioeconomic power dynamics of households and even the duration of households has been radically evolving for over four decades and will continue to evolve for the immediate future.

While supermarkets have been content dealing with their “traditional mom” fantasies their share of disposable income spent on food has been in steady decline.

Coincidence? I think not.

One thing has stayed the same over the decades–the key to successful retailing is a deep, accurate, timely understanding of who your customer is and what he, she or they want.

If people paid more attention to that, maybe they wouldn’t be so shocked to discover that men do, in fact, shop for food.

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 8 days ago

Most recent studies tend to turn shopping stereotypes upside down. The study showing that men do the majority of food shopping is a good parallel to the data demonstrating women’s roles in making decisions about car-buying and electronics. (There is probably contrary data to disprove these points, if you look hard enough or ask the survey questions in a certain way.) Bottom line, regardless of the data points, is that gender stereotypes probably need to be thrown out the window as they pertain to shopping patterns, especially since the outbreak of the Great Recession.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
10 years 8 days ago

There is a staggering amount of poorly conducted research that is reported, reprinted and believed. The 80% number is little more than a myth. If you spend a great deal of time in stores as I do you will see a lot of men doing the shopping in a wide variety of stores. Yes, women are the primary shoppers in department and women-specific apparel stores. But visit any grocery, hardware, electronics, shoe or many other types of stores in the evening or on weekends and you will see a good mix of both men and women doing the shopping.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 8 days ago

It is indeed an accepted (if incorrect) assumption that females control 80% of the purchasing decisions for not only groceries, but all retail purchases.

The real misnomer is the term “household.” When you start looking at statistics like number of single parents, divorce rates, average marriage age, and so on, you can see that the image of Ward and June Cleaver at home with the Beav is a relic of the past. I find it hard to believe, however, that with the tools available to track purchase details that there is anyone out there making marketing decisions on such an outdated generality.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
10 years 8 days ago

I think there’s a difference between making the overall purse-string decisions and buying the products in the store.

I also think this highlights some of the challenges with traditional primary research. People claim many things, some for “aspirational” reasons some really believe it. I do the grocery shopping relatively often, so I might say that my wife and I share the shopping. In reality she shops grocery more than I do, she almost exclusively shops for the kids clothes and party gifts, but I almost exclusively shop for DIY, sporting goods and electronics. Some stores provide for all these needs and the boundaries get blurred even further.

So my advice would be that it’s better to use real shopping data or survey data from your stores than generalist market-level research on which to base your strategies and plans.

Liz Crawford
Guest
10 years 8 days ago
When the majority of shopping is “shared” it may be interesting to see what that really means. If we use statistics from Tom Vanderbilt’s book, “Traffic” it looks like Americans are making more car trips than ever. In the 1950s, 40% of trips were work trips, but now that number is only 16% of the total. What kinds of trips have been added? Taking the kids to school or day care, eating out, picking up dry cleaning. Who is making these trips? “If you look at trip rates by male versus female, and look at that by size of family, the women’s trip rates vary tremendously by size of family. Men’s trip rates look as if they didn’t even know they had a family. The mother is the one doing all of the hauling.” (Vanderbilt, TRAFFIC, p. 135) While men may be doing more of the shopping, there is more to do. “From 1981 to 1997, the amount of time children spent in organized sports in America doubled.” (p. 137) It may be interesting to… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 8 days ago

When a man goes shopping without his wife
He selects items without spousal strife.

When a woman shops without her dear spouse
She reflects the needs of the family’s house.

When shopping together man shrinks in power
Those events are known as the Women’s Hour.

Purchasing patterns are changing their ways.
(Excluding Warren’s image about foreplay)
Shopping’s done by who has most time today.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 8 days ago

Warren’s right, and this story is laugh-out-loud funny. I’d go to some stores and check out the crush of men purchasing things, but I’m too busy rolling on the floor.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
10 years 8 days ago

The researcher in me responds. How much CONSUMER research is still focused on the female head of house? To what extent is the respondent dynamically chosen? Is household data from household scanner panels sweeping the issue under the rug by focusing on the household as a unit when many WITHIN the household now buy their own products? Another dynamic–traditional research for traditional marketing was constructed in a world where supermarkets were where you bought groceries. Now, much of grocery shopping occurs in Mass and club. Those are places where couples shop TOGETHER.

The world has changed. Research methods better catch up.

Tony Orlando
Guest
10 years 8 days ago

The classic household today is different from the Ozzie and Harriet days of the 1960s, and as business owners, we need to evolve as well. There are opportunities to sell to a number of different families, and each family has different needs. Packaging sizes on meats, and canned goods need to be available to the empty nesters, and single folks, and also you need the bulk deals for large families.

Listen to your customers, and customize products to fit their needs, and you’ll have a customer for life. I deal with a lot of men who make the meat purchases, and the women love to order unique items from the deli, so each situation will be different, but keep your ears open, and a good listener will figure out how to handle each situation.

Happy selling!

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 8 days ago
In retail, most every merchant is chasing the female shopper, quite often represented as mom. While that consumer remains a viable target, it’s not the only demo brands should target. Increasingly, brands are becoming aware that males are viable targets, as are other demo slices, like seniors, health/wellness consumers, college/university students, gay/lesbian consumers, single and unmarried consumers, grandparents, first-time homeowners, new parents, etc. That we can now slice and dice demos–and create an offering to successfully target them–is a clear indication that consumer lifestyles have greatly changed and continue to morph. It’s good to have reliable data to support consumer insights. But trying to quantify who controls the household purse strings will always prove difficult because consumers live such varied lifestyles. Dad may have more say when it comes to purchasing motor oil, but mom rules when it comes to OTC meds, and the kids definitely have a big say in family leisure activities. And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the many lifestyles and life stages consumers live and the many… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
10 years 8 days ago

Despite what that survey says, most retailers know that women really do earn more than men when combining their incomes along with the money they are able to separate from the men in their lives. Combined, this gives women an enormous amount of purchasing power and therefore retailers will continue to focus on women as the primary shopper.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 8 days ago

I make the purchase decision. When my wife says give me a couple of Bens, I am going to the store, I decide whether I am going to give her another sawbuck and ask her sweetly if she would also please buy some beer for me. The researchers are just beginning to understand how in control we men are.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 8 days ago

Meet the new myth, same as the old myth. (A blatant repurposing of lyrics from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”) I echo Warren Thayer’s comments exactly, except maybe the couch thing–maybe. Additionally, Bill Emerson was smart to question the term, “household.” Over half of U.S. households are single-person. So in those HHs, uh, there’s no division of purchasing responsibilities, right? Were single-person HHs eliminated from this research?

Is this the launch of a new purchase-decision myth to replace the old one? You can tell folks that you were there when it happened.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 6 days ago

Every retailer should know that women make the majority of purchasing decisions, especially in food shopping, but careful analysis of loyalty data is essential too.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

How important is it for marketers today to understand who ’controls’ household purchasing decisions?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...