Different strategies Women shop ‘for love.’ Men want ‘to win.’

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A field guide to male shoppers



You see them in every corner of a shopping mall. Men surrounded by a wall of anchor-store and boutique bags. Men pacing. Men sitting. And waiting. And waiting.

They’re all waiting for their wives or girlfriends who are trying on clothes. An anthropologist would have a field day with this. We did, too. Maybe you’ll see yourself or your partner in one of the species we identified:

THE ROVER: Goes to a different department or a different store to kill time.

THE HELPER: Comes into the dressing-room area or even the stall, which can get a negative reaction from other female shoppers and the heave-ho from sales associates in some stores. Sometimes known as The Invader.

THE ROCK: Finds a place to sit far away from the shopping and stays there till it’s time to go.

THE BABY SITTER: Hey, fair is fair. Mom has been with the kids all week. It’s Dad’s turn.

THE THINKER: Like Rodin’s sculpture, this shopper is usually deep in thought – and in time spent waiting. Some stare at the ground, some busy themselves with books or cell-phone games.

THE CONSULTANT: Puts other males to shame with his knowledge of his partner’s tastes and his patience outside the dressing room.

THE SHEEPDOG: Subconsciously or discreetly herds the shopper out of stores before she has a chance to try something on.

MR. SOCIAL: Talks with store clerks while waiting. A few flirt.

THE CHAMELEON: Stands far away from the dressing room; hopes no one notices him in the women’s clothing environment.

THE PANTHER: Paces back and forth like a caged animal while waiting.

Different strategies Women shop ‘for love.’ Men want ‘to win.’
Field Guide to Male Shoppers debunks three stereotypes: Grab and Go,” “Whine and Wait” and “Fear of the Feminine.”

The comments were full of fashion savvy:

“It’s nice to see that kind of a look coming back.”

“You could even put it with a white cardigan.”

“It looks a little long in back.”

They all came from Scott Price, a benefits consultant from St. Charles, as he helped his wife, Francoise, add to her wardrobe in the Forth & Towne store at Woodfield Shopping Center in Schaumburg, Ill.

Price used to just drop off his wife at the clothing store and not look back. Not anymore.

“It’s only fair,” Price said as his wife disappeared beyond a door in the circular dressing room at Forth & Towne. “If she can learn how to use all the remotes in the living room – and there are four or five of them – then it’s only fair that I learn a little about shopping and how to offer some advice.”

Scott “used to be the pack mule,” Francoise said, “but he has gotten more involved over time. And I rely on his opinion. You need someone who has a good critical eye to make recommendations, and he’s gotten good at that.”

Mary Ann McGrath, marketing professor at Loyola University Chicago, has studied male shoppers extensively with University of Illinois professor Cele Otnes.

“Women shop for love,” she said. “They want everyone to be happy and anything that is purchased to be loved by all. And, therefore, they are loved for making the choice.

“Men don’t care – they want to win. It’s an aggressive, male way for approaching the market-place. They want the best one, the best buy, the last one. They want to emerge as victors.”

And if some of men’s roles in our Field Guide to Male Shoppers – the Thinker, the Rock – seem like boring or stifling roles, women should think about blaming themselves, McGrath said.

“Women have to give them a role that has some respect to it,” McGrath said. “Staying with the packages isn’t that great of a role.”

McGrath and Otnes began their study with three stereotypes of male shoppers: “Grab and Go,” “Whine and Wait” and “Fear of the Feminine.” McGrath says they debunked all three as false.

Take “Grab and Go,” for instance.

“It’s a myth,” McGrath said. “Men do a lot of browsing, but they do it online. They’ve done their decision-making outside of the store.”

Women should recognize and utilize this trait in their partners, she said.

“Men will do an incredible amount of research,” McGrath said. “They’re happy to do that kind of comparative shopping. It’s really an important part. Men will take that role on if women let them have it.”

Mike Rathunde of Chicago says his behavior around dressing rooms has changed over the years. His wife, Amanda, says he’s definitely an Eager Helper or Invader.

Mike says he’s more complex than that.

“I’ve grown into more of Mr. Social from a Thinker,” he said, “but I like to invade as many times as I can.”

Amanda doesn’t mind the invasions.

“He’s an “ubersexual’ male,” she said, referring to the next generation of metrosexual male. “It’s like having a personal assistant shopper that you don’t have to pay.”

Steve and Mamie Detert of Waterloo, Wis., say Mamie’s weight loss five years ago has made trips to the store much more satisfying. Steve was spotted invading the dressing room at J.C. Penney. “It’s more fun picking out clothes for her now,” he said.

Talbots and Forth & Towne have recognized the need to cater to the male in the shopping equation. The stores offer luxuriant chairs and couches and provide bottled water and magazines such as Sports Illustrated so men don’t get antsy.

Yet in some cases, the male is nowhere near those comfy couches.

“He’s at her heels nudging her along,” noted Talbots manager Heather Bergt, pointing to what she called a Sheepdog species of male shopper. “He feels like if they sit down, she’ll take longer.”

Other males stay away from dressing rooms because they’ve been told they have poor taste and their opinions aren’t welcome. Loyola’s McGrath said this is an obstacle she and her husband had to overcome.

“He just has different taste,” she said. “It’s not necessarily good or bad. I really like solid-colored clothes. I gave him some guidance.”

Francoise Price offers one reason couples should work on their shopping skills together: It builds relationships.

If there’s any doubt, she said, just watch women who shop together.

“I enjoy shopping a lot and it’s something I usually do with my girlfriends or my sister. And it’s very social because you spend time shopping and talking and stopping somewhere for a drink or other refreshments. So I think men miss out if they don’t go at all. It’s a lot of time to be spent together.”

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