Imogen Bailey explores what drives decision making for a female consumer. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the female population in Australia sat at 12.8 million in 2019.

Described as the ‘ideal shopper’ by senior research consultant Stephanie Atto from Monash University’s Australian Consumer and Retail Studies (ACRS) unit, women are key for retailers.

“Women are most frequently identified as the primary shopper within a household,” Atto says.

“So even if men are interested in a particular product, it might be the female who is buying and deciding on it,” she says.

But how was women’s buying behaviour been impacted by the pandemic?

Consulting the ABS data on retail trade – which paints a rollercoaster-like picture of fashion spending – it would be easy to say that women just plainly cut back on buying clothes.

However, that doesn’t explain the enormous lifts in digital spending retailers saw in 2020. 

Mosaic Brands, which recognises women as its core customer, recorded a 14.7% lift in digital spending to $93.7 million in FY20.

Similarly for City Chic, digital sales made up 65% of total sales in the year, compared to 44% in 2019.

Data from Roy Morgan might help to explain these behaviours.

According to the research firm, 62% of women say that they try to look stylish.

“But let me just say: women are not an amorphous block of people that all operate the same way,” Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine begins.

“But I thought that was interesting; that the majority of women say they try and look stylish.

“Almost half of all women say they actually enjoy clothes shopping whereas that’s much less so for men,” she adds.

So if we know that generally, women like shopping for clothes, and they shifted their spending to eCommerce channels in 2020, the question of how they make their decisions comes to the forefront.

The ACRS hub explores the way in which consumers operate, with Atto saying that all shopping begins with a problem that needs solving.

“Regardless of whether the shoppers are male or female, decision making has to start with some kind of problem recognition or stimuli.

“That can be internal or external.

“For example, I’ve dropped my phone in water and I need to get a new phone is internal. External is that they could see an advertisement of the newest iPhone and think, ‘I love technology, I’m going to buy that.’

“So it starts off there regardless of if it’s male or female,” Atto says.

It is in the next phase where the difference between male and female shoppers begins to be seen, Atto explains.

“Then it goes into search phase and this is where you start seeing a bit of a difference between men and women.

“Women are a much more sophisticated shopper than men, so they really treat that information search as an investment.

“They invest their time into that, whereas men will typically have that need identified and make a quicker decision and then just jump to the purchase decision, they don’t spend as much time in the search phase.

“Women will spend a lot of time researching; they’ll browse online, they’ll go to the physical stores, they’ll seek out recommendations from friends and family members and they will they look for online recommendations,” she says.

Atto continues and says that women are also more likely to search for value for money from retailers, be it in the form of discounts or other benefits.

“Women are often inclined to seek out deals or discounted products, they are a lot more conscious of pricing and all of those things.

“Men will go in and are happy to just make a purchase just to get it done and they’ll spend full price. But women are much more discerning shoppers and will consider if there are any other discounts or extra value add-ons like loyalty or rewards programs that they can take advantage of,” she says.

Women also value the customer experience in-store too Atto adds, which is welcome news for retailers who have been investing heavily in this space – even while stores were closed.

Seed unveiled its experience-first Chadstone flagship store the day of Melbourne retail reopening after a year in the making.

The store opened to 120 customers equipped with a personalisation station, a children’s cubby house and a gift-wrapping hub.

“We talk about customer experience a lot and I would say that this is particularly relevant to women,” Atto says.

“When you make a decision, it’s driven by rational assessment as well as an emotional assessment.

“What goes into an emotional assessment are things like, ‘how does it make me feel? Does it align with my self-concept and who I want to portray to the world?’

“So because women invest more time in that experience – because they are going to be doing the search whether it’s online or visiting the store – it’s about making those touchpoints special,” she says.

Atto adds that the in-store experience is key for women as they still tend to make their purchases in a bricks-and-mortar store.

“We constantly find in all of our research how important the interaction is with the people in-store. Human relationships are still very important because women will use the omnichannel – they might search online but they still go in-store to buy.

“We find in all of our research that most of the purchases are still made in-store,” she says.

However, COVID-19 has shifted the way in which people are making their rational and emotional assessments on what they need and want to buy, Levine explains.

“We tend to go out and spend when we’re feeling confident and our data showed clearly that we weren't nearly as confident as we have been.

“There were more people feeling pessimistic than optimistic, so it wasn't normally a time for people to be thinking about going out and buying.

“But when we looked at the data we actually saw clothes shopping has gone up,” she says.

Levine adds that this uptick may be the result of a combination of both mental and physical elements playing out in the work-from-home environment.

“It’s not just psyche; there was also the physical issues of being locked down and working from home.

“What are the different things that you need? What are the things you need for your job? What are the things you need if you’re on a Zoom call?

“So those physical drivers were making a huge difference,” she says.

ACRS’ data backs up Levine’s analysis, with the Monash unit finding that in September, 70% of women made a clothing, footwear or accessories purchase compared to 47% of men.

“Something that we were looking at was the emotional state of people during the pandemic and what the retail experience gave them,” Atto says.

“What I saw from the data was that it seemed to reduce feelings of loneliness, stress and boredom.

“'Retail therapy’ was helping reduce some of those negative emotions,” she says.

Levine adds that there was also a shift in perspective in the way shoppers thought about emotions, with consumers given permission to indulge in things that made them feel good during the pandemic.

“From an emotional perspective I think one driver was all the discussion about mental health. All of those things that were being suggested to us all tied back to, ‘value yourself.’

“It was also a sense of permission to indulge in what would make you feel good. I do think that is a very powerful tool,” she says.

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