Gotta Have It: Shopping Mystique Explained at Centurion

Martha McCully, executive editor of InStyle magazine, returned to the Centurion Jewelry Show this year for another well-attended presentation, this time on what triggers the “must-buy” impulse in female shoppers. Her presentation was titled “Labor or Love: Shopping and the Women Who Do It.”

Speaking to an audience of several hundred retailers, McCully discussed both sociological factors that have changed the nature of the marketplace and what compels women as individuals to shop—and to shop in a particular store.

Women in the workforce have changed everything, she said. According to figures she presented, women are poised to out-earn men by the year 2028, and at present, 51 percent of all adult women live without spouses. Women out-shop men online, accounting for 52 percent of the shoppers in that space.

Women are both bosses at work and gatekeepers at home, making most of the decisions about a family’s daily habits, schedules, and purchases. Contrary to the stereotypical belief that gadgets are a “guy thing,” women also are early adopters of technology that makes their lives easier, said McCully, citing figures showing that 81 percent of all women have Internet access, and 71 percent own a cell phone.

Women do their own research about shopping, she said, and that research is frequently done online. She quipped that no woman would even go on a date today without first Googling the guy. 40 percent of women will research a product online, but still buy it in-store, said McCully. And, according to a study by MRI, in the last year, women spent $52 billion on apparel, $14 billion on health and beauty aids, and $16 billion on jewelry and watches.

Because many women are busy, frantic, and harried—she repeated a statistic from last year’s talk that the average woman spends 55 minutes a day looking for things—she needs to indulge herself. She wants the treat, whether it’s a new lipstick or a new necklace. Women are multitaskers. Shopping is part of their day, seldom the whole of it.

She divided shopping into two categories: the “gotta get it,” or necessity shopping such as groceries, prescriptions, and so forth, and “gotta have it,” or the emotional shopping that is a transcendant experience. Whether the woman needs the item in the true physical sense—usually not—there is an inner need to own it.

In the shopping-as-labor sector, women are perfectionists. They take pride in their ability to find the perfect thing. In the shopping-as-love sector, she said women use shopping to meet a variety of needs, from social to emotional to meeting a challenge. The motivation can be love, fun and fantasy, socializing, soothing, or simply wanting to splurge.

McCully identified nine “shopping personalities,” using amusing clips from popular media to illustrate each. The Treasure Hunter is obsessed with shopping and finding exactly the right thing. Women who line up outside of stores waiting when a new collection is delivered are an example of this. To them, it’s a game, and a good way to attract this shopper is with loyalty programs that put them in the know.

The Go-Getter is on a mission. She wants to find what she needs and be on her way. The Bargain Hunter frequents sample sales, discount stores, warehouse clubs, and outlets. She’ll brag about how little she spent for something, not how much. But she’s not to be sneered at, either, warned McCully, citing multiple studies that have shown today’s affluent are largely self-made and even though they can afford top dollar, they remain very price-conscious and look for value. (See JCK State of the Industry Report, September 2006).

The Recreational Shopper views this as a social occasion, hobby, or outing, and the environment of the store is very important to her. Making it welcoming, warm and fuzzy is critical to attract this shopper, and she is likely to respond well to in-store events.

“The ‘80s were the decade of the mall, the ‘90s were the decade of the outlet and discount shop, the ‘00s are the decade of luxury, and the ‘10s will be the decade of experience,” predicted McCully.

The Trend Follower shopper really looks to shopping to be a transformative experience. She reads magazines avidly and even if it’s only for a moment, she “is” the model or celebrity when she buys the dress. She wants to show off her sense of style and being able to individualize it or customize it is important to her, so offering customized jewelry is likely to resonate with her.

The Speed Shopper strategizes how to shop, and does her research online before setting foot out the door. Having a fantastic web site with your catalog online is a good way to attract this shopper, said McCully.

The Emotional Shopper looks to “fill the void,” whether it’s an emotional need, a need for excitement and to relieve boredom, or just “retail therapy” after a tough day.

“90 percent of luxury consumers have made their own money. She has already self-actualized, and become who she wants to be,” said McCully. So shopping is a transformative experience for other needs than to become who she wants to be. She also responds to a cozy environment that’s emotionally comfortable.

The Collector acquires for a variety of reasons, from appreciation to simply liking to acquire. Creating sets or annual add-on pieces is something that is likely to catch her eye. And, lastly, the Gift Giver uses objects to communicate how she feels. What does the gift say—never forgetting that the gift may also be given to herself.

“Pleasure transforms need into desire, and desire into need,” said McCully. “Need is relative, especially in the luxury market, but the consumer needs to justify it in her head sthat she needs it. If it enhances her quality of life, she needs it.”