Fatherly (Shopping) Advice

Research suggests men are better shoppers than they think

by Jean Chatzky June 13, 2013 Email

We learn a lot from our fathers. Mine taught me more than I can list here, but among the lessons that stick out: how to make a milkshake, how to talk to just about anyone and how to work hard to achieve a goal, whatever that goal may be.

You’ll notice that list did not include shopping. For all his wonderful qualities, my dad did not teach me about couponing, sticking to a shopping list and avoiding shopping while hungry. (He was, in fact, not particularly frugal—especially when it came to clothes.) However, according to research out of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, many other dads and men in general, have a lot to teach the rest of us about shopping. In this research, Wharton marketing professor Stephen Hoch concludes that “men buy, women shop.” In other words, men have a specific focus on what they need to buy, while women are more likely to enjoy the whole shopping process.

This may seem like a small difference, but the male “buying” tendency is one that can limit both overspending and needless time at the mall. Here’s what you need to know to shop more like your father:

Have a clear mission. A man I once interviewed told me that his shopping motto is, “Get in, get out, get home.” This is consistent with Hoch’s findings. “Men tend to be more focused on ‘I need this, I’m going to get it and not waste a lot of time.’ Women are more likely to treat it as a social experience,” he said. However, he was careful to note that just because men are focused on their “mission” does not mean that women are not capable of this skill. “You look at YouTube and type in ‘coupon lady’; you don’t see coupon men,” Hoch said. “There are clearly very accomplished shoppers that are women that are mission-focused. They go in with a plan of attack and are focused and save money.

The salesperson is not your friend. You may recognize this line from my book Money Rules, but it bears repeating here because Hoch said that while men and women both want salespeople to educate them about the product, engage with them and expedite the process, women are more likely to want a salesperson who interacts with them. “Women set a higher standard in terms of what they expect the salesperson to be as the engager,” he said. “Women tend to be more attentive to other people rather than their own goals. I think what women expect is, do unto others as you expect others to do unto you.” However, that friendly salesperson who is complimenting you on that sweater you don’t need is doing your wallet more harm than good.

Use the Internet as a shield. While Hoch’s research didn’t extend to online shopping, he suspects there wouldn’t be as much of a difference between male and female habits online because the act of searching for a specific product on the Web is, by nature, more “mission-focused.” Technology “tends to level the playing field,” Hoch said, noting that on the Web you can search for the best deals and stay focused on one specific item. “If women really feel like they have impulse control problems, what they ought to do is go online,” he said. Note, however, that this strategy necessitates self-control. If you subscribe to retailers’ e-mails, a good way to handle them is to send them straight to an archive that you check only once or twice a week.

Beware the impulse to overspend. All of this being said, men are still just as likely to overspend as women—in fact, according to some studies, they’re actually more likely to overspend. Glenn Geher, evolutionary psychologist and co-author of the recently released Mating Intelligence Unleashed, attributes this likelihood to an innate desire to attract a mate. “A lot of this stuff is unconscious,” Geher said, explaining that if a guy buys fancy cars, it’s probably just because he likes cars. However, “an outcome of having that stuff and spending ends up being female attention. I think a lot of the overspending you see, especially within young males in the mate-selection part of life, most of that is probably unconscious and it’s a display mechanism. A display of resources that are ultimately tied to mate attraction.”

Geher noted that this effect is present in older men, too—think of the stereotypical midlife crisis in which a highlighter-yellow convertible ends up in the driveway. The takeaway? No one is safe: not men, not women, not younger adults, not older adults. We’re all capable of overspending. Stop the impulse with a purchasing pause of at least 24 hours. If you still want the highlighter-yellow convertible, at least you’ve slept on it.

—With Maggie McGrath

Jean Chatzky is a leading personal finance expert, award-winning journalist and best-selling author. She is also the financial expert for NBC’s Today show.


One thought on “Fatherly (Shopping) Advice

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