What do Women Want?

What do Women Want?

According to recent research 85% of decisions are made by women and lifestyle retailers major target market is 35 year old women. But, at a recent retail conference I had an audience that was made up of 75% male retail business owners with the majority of them in their 50’s.The challenge for these guys was trying to understand their target market. At last a great book has just come out to help retail business owners understand their target market. ‘Just Ask a Woman- Cracking the Code of What Women want and how they buy’ has been written by Mary Lou Quinlan and published by John Wiley and Sons [ISBN 0-471-36920-9]. The book looks at today’s female consumer from a woman’s perspective. It offers advice on what most male retailers are doing wrong and what they should be doing to gain a woman’s loyalty as a consumer. Some of the key messages are below.

Do a listening audit

Most women will tell their male partners that they are not listening to them. One of the first comments in this book is that most male salespeople do not give the impression that they are listening to their female consumers. What is the answer to this often heard complaint? Develop a listening audit to check how good your listening skills are in business.

The book suggest among other things, two valuable listening audits. One is to simply ask your female customers how good they feel your team are at listening to customers, and what improvements they would suggest. The other one is to ask your team for the answers to some key questions. Those questions would include: What can our customers not live without? What frustrates you about our female customers? What is the one customer fact you want to be absolutely sure of? What does our typical customer really look like, how does she live, what makes her laugh and what does she worry about?

These questions force your team to really focus on their customer and her needs and wants. I realise some of your team may have problems answering some of these questions. However, this may highlight that the team are not as in tune with their customers as they thought they were, and some work may be required to bring the team up to speed.


The book then moves on to women’s stresses. Many women, according to the book, take on the stresses of their partners, friends and family as well as their own. As a retailer we need to accept that these stresses exist, especially when it comes to young mums. The answer is to reduce your customers stress and put a smile on her face. Examine the systems in your business and try to simplify them for your consumer.

I recently came across an example of this in my own family when my daughter, who has a nine month old baby tried to negotiate calling our local bank while managing her offspring. The answer phone system went on and on and then she was put on hold. This may have helped the bank, but it resulted in a stressed mum, with a crying baby, who was not in the frame of mind to deal with the teller when she finally got through to speak to someone. This did the bank no favours in consumer perceptions of the customer service they offer.

Many male retailers are not sure when a customer is in shopping mode and when she is in deciding mode. A typical female shopper in Australia, we are told, shops for 399 hours a year on average, but not all those trips to the shops are in shopping mode. If women are saying they are “just looking” the chances are they are doing just that, and are not in a shopping mode, so leave them alone. When she is ready to buy, she really is and wants service straight away. An astute salesperson can read when a customer is in a looking mode versus a buying mode and can react accordingly.

The female consumer and your brand

The book talks about the Four Quadrants of the consumers’ shopping experience when it comes to your brand. Firstly, your consumer has a powerful memory. She will recall experiences about your brand from the distant past and then make decisions today based on those memories. Sometimes these are positive and sometimes they are negative. The positive memories of her Beetle car in her youth have resulted in increased sales of the latest version of this iconic car.

Secondly, she is looking for company legends and is often an avid reader of magazines where these legends are generated. Many women, even outside of the US look to Nordstrom’s as providers of legendary customer service. Many of them have not even ventured into one of their stores, but they know the legend.

Thirdly, and in my opinion this is the most important, is her board of directors, her trusted advisors. These may include her closed friends, her accountant and near relatives. These people have a huge influence on the buying process and are often overlooked by many retailers. That is why ‘tipster marketing’ campaigns developed by retailers are so important in building an advocacy base for any business. You have to get women to talk about you and your business. Finally, the first encounter with your store is critical to the whole future experience with your business. On this visit she is using all her senses and forming a whole list of impressions and opinions on your business. She is analysing your cleanliness, customer service attitudes, your merchandise, your displays and your overall attitude. First impressions are far more critical to female shoppers than male shoppers.

You need to ensure that you have an image checklist and that the store is checked against that checklist every day. Your entire team needs to be trained in building positive relationships with customers, not just on how to make the sale.

The book covers many other aspects of how to sell to women. I know female readers will say it is all common sense, but to many male retailers, it is rare sense and therefore an essential read. John Stanley is a retail business coach, speaker and author. John helps retailers:


  • Increase sales per square metre.
  • Increase average sale per customer.
  • Improve merchandising to maximise potential.
  • Market more effectively.Email info@johnstanley.cc

John at BHB Conference