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Lost in the Supermarket: Men Without Lists

Men are shopping more, but women still make the grocery decisions.

Super Marketing

Marketers -- the people who study and implement retail selling -- know a lot about how men and women shop. They know who's making the shopping lists. So they mostly market to women.

 

"Manufacturers and distributors and grocery stores do a lot of things to maximize their profit per square inch of shelf and, hopefully, to increase customer satisfaction," Mick says. "They are not idiots. They do a lot of research. They track a lot of data. They know who their loyal customers are. They use this information to set up the store to be competitive."

 

But even the best marketers and consumer psychologists that money can buy don't ensure that you'll buy everything a supermarket has to sell.

 

"Do they have this down to a science so that they push everybody's button all the time? No," Mick says. "It is easy to go to an extreme thinking that marketers and grocers know things the psychologists don't even know about getting us to buy things. I don't think they have figured out things quite that much."

 

It's a highly competitive marketplace with razor-thin profit margins. Supermarkets focus on the bottom line, says Wesley Hutchinson, PhD, the Stephen J. Heyman Professor and professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and past president of the Association for Consumer Research.

 

"The grocery is trying to do a lot of things, and a lot of it is based on efficiency," Hutchinson tells WebMD. "They want to keep their loyal customers and they want to get people in and out as fast as possible. In the meantime, they try to sell you some things. They're trying to move a lot of volume through the store as fast as they can."

 

About 80% of grocery store purchases are straight rebuys, says Herbert Jack Rotfeld, PhD, professor of marketing at Auburn University and editor of the Journal of Consumer Affairs. That means we have a good chance of emerging from the grocery store without too much overbuying.

 

"I am optimistic about people's ability to handle things," Rotfeld tells WebMD. "People go in with their coupons and their lists. It's not a free-for-all."

Getting More From the Store

Rotfeld's optimism notwithstanding, there's lots of room for error. That's because two-thirds of our grocery-shopping decisions are made in the store, says Barbara E. Kahn, PhD, director of the Wharton undergraduate division and Dorothy Silberberg Professor of Marketing at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

 

"People come in with a general idea of what they are going to buy, but their lists tend to be vague," Kahn tells WebMD. "When decisions are made in the store, you are vulnerable to cues such as corner displays, big red 'Value!' arrows, and other in-store merchandising."

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