Understanding the Sheconomy
By Lisa Readie Mayer
PhotoS: ©2020 Getty Images. www.gettyimages.com.
It’s a man’s world, isn’t it? Not really. According to financial experts, it’s women who drive the world’s economy, and women who are its most powerful consumers. As the gatekeepers of family spending, women control more than half the wealth in the U.S., particularly on purchases related to home, family, and well-being.
Yet the reality is, most hearth and barbecue products are marketed to, and designed, manufactured, and sold by men. (There’s progress on that last one – see "Yes, We Can!" to read about some of the growing number of amazing women retailers in the hearth and barbecue industries!)
That’s a situation that should change. Here’s why.
According to research from the Bloomberg company, women oversee 85% of household spending. They make or influence over 95% of household purchase decisions, and are the final veto on 65% of purchase considerations. Women are increasingly making decisions on traditionally male-dominated purchases.
A report in the Harvard Business Review indicates women decide or participate in the decisions on 91% of home purchases, 40% of home-improvements, 60% of car purchases, 51% of consumer electronics purchases, and 94% of home-furnishings purchases.
They also often control purchases for additional households beyond their own, such as for aging parents and in-laws.
While employment statistics have recently been upended in the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as of December 2019, women made up the majority of the workforce for the first time ever, holding down 50.04% of American jobs, up from 49.7% a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although there is still a gender wage gap – “Business Insider” reports the median full-time female worker makes 80.7 cents for every male-earned dollar – it is improving. According to Pew Research, the gender wage gap has tightened from a 33-cent differential in 1980. Today, in fact, nearly 40% of married women make more money than their husbands.
Many women are delaying marriage and children, or having fewer children than previous generations, giving them the opportunity to develop personal wealth, according to reports from Bloomberg.com. Many are not waiting for marriage to make major purchases.
Builder.com reports housing’s fastest-growing buyer segment is the single, female household. According to the National Association of Realtors 2019 Profile of Home Buyers & Sellers, 11% of all home purchases in 2019 were made by single women. Single women represent 17% of all first-time homebuyers, with a median age of 34, and 18% of repeat buyers, with a median age of 60. By contrast, 7% of first-time homebuyers and 8% of repeat buyers were single men.
As new-home buyers, women are considering the purchases of hearth products, patio furniture, barbecue grills, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, pergolas, patio heaters, and more for their new indoor and outdoor living spaces.
Whether they are single or married homeowners, according to Suzanne Turner, a certified Hearth Design Specialist, NFI Master Hearth Specialist, and a former hearth retailer for 36 years, “Females dominate purchasing, so we need to do a better job of connecting with them.”
How Women Shop and Buy
According to Turner, women shop and buy differently than men. “Women see shopping and buying as an experience; men see it as a chore,” she says. “Critical to that shopping experience is how the store looks, so it’s important to view your store through fresh, unbiased eyes. Women care that the store looks tidy and clean, the check-out is uncluttered, and the merchandising displays are attractive.”
After often walking past clutter or a dated display, it becomes difficult to see it for what it truly is. Therefore, organizational experts advise taking photos of your store inside and out, and analyzing what you see in the photos. Organizational pros say it is easier to look at photos more objectively and identify areas for improvement.
Turner says it’s important to women customers that salespeople look neat and professional (no t-shirts or ballcaps, she cautions). “Women believe these details reflect on how you conduct business and help form her opinion of how she expects you will treat her home and her project,” she says. “To her, a messy desk or design station, or a sloppy staff appearance, is a warning signal that you might mess up her order. If you can’t keep your store neat and clean, she imagines you bringing dirt into her house or messing up her yard.”
Think this is an exaggeration? Think again. In an online industry discussion forum, a retailer recently complained that a homeowner canceled an order and service appointment after noticing the tires on the retailer’s service truck were bald. The retailer got defensive and thought the customer was overreacting and out of line, but other retailers pointed out the obvious: letting the technician drive on poor tires conveys the impression that the retailer was not on top of its own regular maintenance, doesn’t pay attention to details, and even worse, doesn’t prioritize safety. Female customers notice such things, and you should too.
According to Turner, women also value punctuality and courtesy. They appreciate a heads-up call to say you’re on the way, or are running late. Women want service technicians and installers to be respectful of their home and patio. They like it when service people and installers run drop cloths from the front door to the fireplace, wear booties, and take care not to trample garden beds.
According to Bloomberg.com, women ask more questions than men and take longer to arrive at purchase decisions. They are more selective and willing to shop and search longer to find the perfect solution that meets all of their requirements and desires, whereas men prefer to get in and out fast, and are willing to settle for a workable solution.
Turner says women want to buy from a trusted “friend,” so retailers need to do everything they can to gain her trust. That means talking with her respectfully, and directing attention, conversation, and questions to her equally, even if her spouse is present. “Make eye contact, actively listen to her, take notes, and give feedback along the way to show you’re listening,” says Turner.
Women are more interested in hearing about how a product can help make their lives better, more convenient, and more comfortable, rather than dry facts about specs and Btus. These attributes indicate value, and Turner says women buy on value more than price.
“Don’t apologize about the price, talk about the benefits,” she says. “Don’t just mention a list of the specs and features; talk about what they mean to her. For example, it’s not enough to say this pellet stove has an 80 lb. hopper; she wants to know that, because it holds two bags of pellets, it can be filled less frequently. A blower with high CFMs is relatable to having a powerful hairdryer. You should talk about prices confidently and unapologetically and say, ‘This product is worth it and let me tell you why.’”
Turner says women often research on social media platforms such as Pinterest and Houzz for design inspiration and guidance when planning home renovation projects and furnishings purchases. If they haven’t already created inspiration boards, suggest they do so to help you understand and achieve their vision. But also plan to show them other options beyond the products or styles in their clippings. “They may have done research, but they still are not aware of everything you, as an expert, are aware of,” says Turner.
According to Forbes, businesses should have both male and female employees on sales and management teams, noting, “Research shows that companies with gender-balanced teams have higher return on investment.” Turner suggests female sales staff should be trained as Certified Hearth Specialists, and be fluent in Outdoor Room design.
When creating marketing campaigns targeted to women, avoid the tendency to “pink it up,” or other stereotypically feminine approaches. Women find this condescending, according to Turner.
Research shows females are more influenced by negative reviews than men. They also have higher expectations for customer service and quality, so it’s critically important to provide an exceptional experience. The added bonus for doing so is that women become loyal customers and tell others about their good experiences. But be warned: They also share about bad experiences. They can be your biggest cheerleader or your worst enemy.