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GUEST COMMENT The future of retail is sexist and here’s why

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The foundation of customer segmentation and prediction depends upon a few incontrovertible truths. It’s sexist, ageist, nationist, locationist and most certainly spendist.

‘Ists’, stereotypes and assumptions are some of the best tools in a marketer’s arsenal when it comes to segmenting its audience and modeling behavior. All of these individual ‘ists’ support marketers in building an image of the customer they are marketing to. This image, built upon slivers of demographic, live and historic data pieced together, helps predict the kind of behaviour and actions they are likely to take.

However, whilst stereotypes are pre-eminently helpful in determining how to market to specific audiences, the challenge arises when we apply one stereotype broadly, forgetting the myriad other assumptions that more detailed information allows us to make.

Gender is an area where this broad brush stereotyping is at its worst. Marketers have long used male and female as catch-all categories for segmentation. When we think of overt attempts to target a female-skewed audience the marketing world is filled with fluffy faux pas. Pink sodden product marketing, shrunken pens cradled by simpering femmes or diamante encrusted phone cases, all attempts seem to end in embarrassment (and some hilarious Amazon customer reviews if you recall the Bic ‘for Her’ pens).

However statistics show that in a retail audience the XX chromosome is more common than not. Women consumers drive over $12 trillion (£6.9 trillion) in global spending. And 22% of women consumers shop online every day, according to Ogilvy & Mather.

However, many female consumers are ignored in marketing efforts, buying in spite of marketing campaigns that don’t take them into account. The short sightedness of both retailers and brands is inexcusable, given that women consumers control $20 trillion (£11.6 trillion) in consumer spending globally. Research shows that women make the final decision for buying a huge proportion of big-ticket items such as new cars, computers and home purchases.

There are areas where retailers can look to appeal to the dominant force of women in consumer spending, without a diamante in sight.

Circle of influence

Women are often influenced by and seek out peer opinions throughout the purchasing journey. This can be obtaining advice and product opinions from each other or broadcasting and amplifying messages about brands they champion. Integrating social media both in the retail experience and in data analysis is core to engaging this socially active segment of the female demographic.

Support research and the decision making process

Demonstrating how a product can be used, enlisting the support of reviews and engaging the imagination are all very valuable in persuading shoppers to buy. Many female shoppers appreciate the ability to visualise what role a product will play in their lives, and how it will enable them or their friends and families to enjoy a certain kind of lifestyle. In general, men want to know: What is this technology? Is it cool? Is it powerful? In general, women want to know: What and where does this get me/us?

Pay close attention to the design of your in-store user experience

Female shoppers are generally speaking highly attuned to presentation (bar teenage daughters everywhere, remember we’re stereotyping here). Retailers should design spaces and messaging according to what women want to know about products, as well as how women buy. The basics (which span gender boundaries) are well-lit car parks, clean environments, approachable staff, clear product information and service policies. However promotions geared to specific female demographics, such as mothers shopping with children or ‘money-rich, time-poor’ heads of households, can help create better in-store experiences. For instance, Nordstrom has an unconditional return policy that makes it easy to shop quickly or for others who are not available to try on clothing in the store.

The future of retail understands the power of women as consumers but doesn’t merely take that huge demographic swathe as one unit. Taking a common denominator and ignoring other vital information risks alienating your customer and creating a shamefully basic image of their wants and needs.

Women clearly don’t respond to the ‘shrink it, pink it’ mantra of lazy female marketing. Retailers looking to tap into the huge consumer power wielded by women need to show a more sophisticated approach to this consumer common denominator. This power isn’t set to slow and retailers able to tap into a market that has been woefully mistargeted could reap huge rewards.

Wise marketers will actively court specialised female customer segments. ‘Money-rich but time-poor’ female heads of household, or older (post-50-year-old), well-heeled career women, are hugely lucrative markets. Understanding these segments within segments and stereotypes within stereotypes requires better data and better analysis that the male/female catch all allows.

At the end of the day, putting the customer first and at the center of what a retailer does is what any customer wants. Genders become just one aspect in a detailed picture when retailers take this approach. Marketing by stereotype then becomes personalised marketing, where we address the needs of each individual, just they way they are.

Diane Kegley is CMO, RichRelevance.

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