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Men and Women in the Grocery Aisles continued...

"Yes, it's true that men tend to go after specific grocery items while women are more likely to browse," Stewart notes. "But it is not that males are more decisive. They are basically following orders."

"Men and women probably do shop a bit differently in grocery stores on average," Mick agrees. "Women probably are less dominated by a top-down, purposive approach to shopping. They probably would be a little more exploratory. ... Women in many families are probably still expected to be the primary procurer of goods for the household. You might say it serves them in that role to have a wider radar of what is in the store and what is good for the household."

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.

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