She buys, he buys... differently

October 2018

They gaze at their phones, lost in thought; they stare into space, bored stiff; or they use the time to take a nap between the bags and piles of clothes -- Matt Strouds's (USA) Instagram account (miserable_men) features all manner of photos of men going shopping with their wives. Or rather, waiting for their trip to the shopping mall to finally come to an end. According to a common stereotype, women enjoy putting on a new outfit, ransacking the shelves for new kinds of muesli, or going on the hunt for home accessories. Men, on the other hand, are criticized for wanting to get shopping trips over with as quickly as possible. What is the truth behind this and other gender stereotypes on the subject of consumption? And what do the German people, as a whole, think about this? Do they buy clothes, cars and other items as they please and because they find it fun? Or do they first consider the price or whether they have a genuine need for a particular product?

Clearly, these questions are not easy to answer, as a look at the results of GfK Verein’s study "Trendsensor Consumption” reveals. In fall 2017, more than 2,000 Germans aged 14 and above (representative sample of the overall population) were asked questions about their various views regarding consumption. For each statement in favor of consumption, there was a clear opposing opinion, expressing consumer reticence or only moderate interest. Each of the respondents could either fully agree or partially agree with either of the two opinions. The analysis revealed that in many aspects, national opinion is split: However, there are also clear majorities. 

For example, this is the case when the focus is on the respondents’ own homes: 60% of the respondents agreed that furnishing, design and decoration are important. Only 40% stated that it was not at all important to decorate their homes with stylish lighting, pictures, candles and fabrics. The majority of respondents also had a positive view of shopping in itself. Overall, 57% of the respondents stated that shopping was fun, while 43% find it annoying. However, opinions were split on other consumption-related statements: While half the population stated that consumption is a tried-and-tested way of enjoying life, the other half was critical: 49% of the respondents agreed that one should feel free to buy anything one can afford, but 51% championed the opposing statement, believing that being careful with spending would do us all some good. Respondents were equally divided over the question of whether quality or price should be the deciding factor in the purchase decision. Half agreed more strongly with statements highlighting aspects such as impressive workmanship or high quality materials. In contrast, the remaining respondents were more in favor of attractive offers – presumably due to a tight budget.

On the move in style: one in two deem flashy cars as important

According to "Handelsblatt”, upon taking over as President of Toyota and Lexus, Akio Toyoda declared: "If it isn't fun, then it isn't a car”. Alongside engine power and driving comfort, aesthetic appeal is definitely part of the fun that a car can offer. A good one in two German respondents would support Toyoda's claim. For 49%, a vehicle is not just a means of getting from A to B but also a status symbol that has to look good. However, the remaining 51% take a more pragmatic view of things, stating that the most important thing is that it works properly. For them, a fancy color and sleek design are less important.

Uniqueness irrelevant for most

In principal, more Germans seem to adopt a rational and use-oriented approach to consumption, as opposed to the pleasure principle – even if they do say so themselves. Only 43% follow a " Buying what I like " approach, while 57% tend to "Buy what is necessary". And even the fashion-conscious are something of a minority. When asked whether they follow rapidly changing fashion trends or prefer instead to stick to classic wardrobe staples, 58% of respondents opted for the latter, stating that timeless looks are best. In total, 42% have a very different view; for them, it is important to make a fashion statement. But regardless of whether you're a deco-minimalist or a designer queen, individuality when shopping is not particularly important for the German people. For the majority of respondents, it is completely irrelevant if other people have the same products as them, be it clothes, furniture or other items. Overall, 76% of respondents indicated their support for this statement. By contrast, only a quarter of respondents value maximum individuality and prefer to buy things that nobody else has. 

To return to our opening question, how do things look with regard to gender stereotypes? Are men and women the same when it comes to consumption preferences? Or is there any truth to the common clichés of men being bored senseless on shopping trips, lugging the bags behind their shopaholic partners? The figures show that in some aspects, there aren't very many gender differences at all. When it came to demands on quality when shopping, a difference between men and women was identified in only one aspect: 48% of women and 49% of men stated that their focus was on ensuring that products really are of top quality. Moreover, almost as many men as women agreed with the statement: " One should feel free to buy anything one can afford” (Difference: four points). However, women tend to focus slightly more on individuality when it comes to shopping: 26% of female respondents stated that they would not be best pleased to find someone else wearing their favorite dress at a party or to see a friend has the same picture hanging on their living room wall. Men tend to take a more relaxed view in this regard: 21% agreed with the statement: " I prefer to buy things no one else has ". Differences between male and female opinion were more marked in other areas: The maxim " Buying what I like” is followed by one in two of women but only 39% of men.

So, are men only interested in functionality, while women prioritize style? This overwhelmingly seems to be the case. However, there is at least one exception. When asked about cars, more men valued style than women, with a difference of 13 points between the two sexes. In total, 56% stated that a vehicle must not only be practical and roadworthy, but that it should also look good. This is a view shared by only 43% of female respondents. However, they stated that they pay more attention to style when it comes to their wardrobes. Dressing fashionably is important for almost one in two of women but only one third of men, and the difference is even greater when it comes to their own homes: At 78%, the vast majority of women place great value on furnishing, design and decoration – at 41%, not even half of men agree. Finally, when it came to the subject of shopping pleasure, the stereotype was completely confirmed: Most women have fun when shopping, but the same cannot be said for most men. Almost three quarters of female consumers stated that shopping is fun – although this figure falls to 40% for men.

We all change over the course of our lives in many respects – we get wrinkles and gray hair, we may attach greater importance to our health, family or closest friends. But what about attitudes towards consumption? Do these change too? Do gender differences converge at all, or does the gap grow even greater? This is what the data shows: There is definitely a change in mentality to be seen over the generations, but major differences between younger men and women continue to apply as we get older. In this context, while agreement with the statement that a car must combine aesthetic appeal with functionality declined over the course of the years for both men and women, the actual difference in opinions between the sexes varied only slightly.

Chic clothes, fancy car: Less important for older men and women

"Look closely in the mirror and only wear what really suits you. Don't bother about being fashionable.” This is the advice given by "punk fashion icon” Vivienne Westwood to all those searching for the right outfit. Whether we find it easy to follow this advice is also a question of age. According to the statistics, attitudes to fashion change as we get older. As with style of car, this applies to both men and women. While more than three quarters of 14-29 year-old women emphasized that it is important to be fashionable, this figure dropped to 39% among female respondents aged 50-60 years old. Younger men also appear to be more interested in fashion than average; 68% of men under 30 find it important to look trendy. The gap between men and women was smallest in this age category, with a difference of ten points. From the age of around 30 onwards, male attitudes changed towards matters of fashion. Less and less importance was attached to being fashionable – and this difference was also more marked than among women in the same age categories. Subsequently, the difference between the genders starts widening to 18 points (30-49 years) and 20 points (50-69 years), before shrinking again slightly among the most senior respondents.

Deriving pleasure from shopping and the finer things in life: important for women in all age groups

If looking fashionable becomes less and less important, does shopping then also become more and more annoying? Not necessarily -- at least for women, the fun factor remains over the years. In total, 87% of under 30s stated that shopping is by no means a tedious chore, but rather a pleasant way to spend some free time. At 74%, the majority of female respondents aged 50-69 still agreed with this statement. Agreement with this statement only started to decline considerably (57%) among respondents aged 70+. The difference between male and female respondents also reduced slightly over time: It fell from 37 points in the youngest group to 33 points for respondents aged 50-69. A similar picture emerges in terms of design. Here female respondents remained fairly consistent in their views: Furnishing, design and decoration are important for the majority of women, both young and old. Among the male respondents, it was a different matter: It was apparent that many men in the youngest age categories did not care so much for matters of home furnishing and decoration; not even a third stated that they attach great value to this and, at 54 points, the difference between men and women was correspondingly high in this age group. However, it seems that men are unable to remain indifferent to their wives’ passion for style, with interest in design on the rise particularly among middle–aged men. In total, 42% of male respondents aged 30-40 and as many as 48% of those aged 60-69 find it important to make their homes attractive. Accordingly, the difference values between the genders reduce here too.

New marketing strategies: Wooing men and wooing women

Whatever the reasons may be for gender-specific differences when it comes to consumption, businesses have been trying for many years to take these differences into account in their products. Today, if you keep your eyes open, you can find many products and services which – regardless of function or purpose – aim to specifically appeal to men or women. DIY stores offer do-it-yourself workshops especially for women to introduce them to previously unloved topics, before offering them products. Banks advertise financial advice tailored to their female customers, car dealerships use snug consultation rooms reminiscent of a lounge. For men, in contrast, there are extra-small washing machine models for a single household. More and more cosmetic products such as face cream and hair dyes for men can also be found on supermarket shelves. If you want to market these products in a targeted way, you can use the gender marketing concept. This approach factors in gender differences, traditional gender roles as well as new developments, when developing products and especially when marketing them. 

Data source: Consumer Study 2017/2018 (Study of GfK Verein)

Responsible for the article and contact person for queries about Compact: Claudia Gaspar. (e-mail to