Books Take On New "Dark Continent:" Women's Buying HabitsS

Hot on the heels of Why Women Have Sex comes an investigation into another aspect of the mysterious behavior of Woman: why she buys shit.

Actually two investigations: Jonathan Birchall of the LA Times reviews Why She Buys and Women Want More, two books on the 50% of the American population that apparently controls 72% of the spending. This statistic alone (from the second book) explains why Wal-Mart directs its ads at moms and not dads. But while Women Want More also posits that women's spending will help end the recession, neither book seems — at least from the review — to offer much concrete information about women's buying habits.

Why She Buys, by Bridget Brennan, is apparently "fun and anecdotal," and the author tells a little story about rejecting a sports car because the cup holders are too small. Brennan isn't swayed by the dealer's "dismissive response that Europeans don't drink coffee in the car" — but really, who would be? This tidbit doesn't really show that women like cupholders or creature comforts, as much as it shows that they don't like bad salesmanship.

Women Want More, by Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre, seems to offer slightly more hard data. Using a study of a study of 12,000 women in 21 countries, the authors find, according to Birchall, that, "'Demands on time' are the top challenge for 47% of respondents; 72% say their mother is the dominant person in their lives; 42% are made extremely happy by pets but only 27% by sex." This is potentially interesting data, but except for the first statistic, it's not clear how these numbers affect shopping. The authors also break women down into six consumer "archetypes," including "fast tracker" and "making ends meet." Unfortunately, Birchall doesn't really explain these archetypes, or what and how they buy.

Part of the review's vagueness may stem from space concerns, but its unintentional message is that despite their research, none of the authors actually have that much to say about why women buy things. It's tempting to respond that women just buy for the same reasons men do, and that it's pointless to break down consumer research by gender. However, given that most companies still use the "make it pink" philosophy of appealing to women, it would be nice if they had a little more data on what women actually want. Corporations may feel that women's buying preferences, like their sexuality, are unknowable and shrouded in mystery. But while some women may buy for different reasons than some men, our reasons are no more difficult to understand.

Of course, for all shoppers, motivations differ according to the purchase at hand. Very different thoughts go through my head when I'm picking up toilet paper than when I'm, say, shopping for a new book. But all the same, I'd like to offer those hapless consumer researchers a little help in understanding the complex female brain. So taking a page from Latoya, I'll list a few general things that convince me to buy an item:

— I need it (toothpaste, soap, MetroCards, beans)
— I want it (books, dessert, an LP record with owls painted on it)
— it sucks less than what I currently have (electronics)
— it's pretty (dresses, art exhibition postcards I will promptly lose, NOT electronics)
— it's cheap (headbands with cherries printed on them and long weird tails that are maybe supposed to tie under my chin)

And here are some reasons I don't buy stuff:

— I have no money
— it has a big fat logo on it
— part of it breaks off in my hand
— it has Bible verses printed on it (especially true if product has nothing to do with religion)
— a salesperson is pushing me to buy it

Feel free to add your reasons.

Getting A Handle On What Drives Women To Buy [LA Times]