I don’t think there is anyone on the planet that truly thinks men and women and are the same. After getting past the obvious that both are human, the division really begins. Because our business, like most, only makes money when we trade an actual product for money, for the purpose of this article, I am most interested in the differences between the sexes when it comes to buying habits. To put a finer point on it, how women purchased office supplies as compared to men as I am a part of the office products industry.
I have been in the office products business for close to 15 years now and over this time have witnessed some marked differences in the purchasing decision making process. For those involved in sales, web design, marketing, etc. my broad observations should provide some useful insight nonetheless.
Again, it is understood that the office supply industry is commodity driven and these trends may not apply to higher end purchases. Still they merit some degree analysis.
Almost 80% of all of our corporate buyers are women. what the women buyer sought was often drastically different than the male buyer in the similar position. Here are some interesting things noted over many years of experience:
- Price was not a concern for women as much as it was for men. This does not suggest that women where frivolous buyers by any means. They simply want higher quality items. This even more apparent when they have complete autonomy in purchasing decisions.
- Brand loyalty is more important to women. Perhaps men are more loyal to car manufactures but this was not demonstrated in the office supply world. For example, they’ll stick (pun intended) with 3M scotch tape even though there are less expensive alternatives readily available.
- Women seek solutions. In other words if a particular item can make their day a bit easier, it is worth the extra money. The value therefore is in the function.
- Men were more concerned with price. The perceived value is in the money saved not in the functionality of the product.
- Women appreciate the significance of service but view it from a different angle. They see service being delivered properly as long as there are no problems.
- Men also of course value service but they see it more as a personal relationship. Meeting for a lunch, talking about a football game, etc. is part of the service umbrella for men.
- Women do of course want discount office supplies but they also want efficiency. Therefore, they swing heavily to internet ordering as it is rightfully believed to be quick and more conducive to multitasking. In fact, when internet ordering became widely available in our industry around 1999, it was the women who embraced the idea first.
- With regards to website design, women preferred a clean clutter free minimalistic site over what they often called a “noisy” or “intrusive” site.
- Men tend to place orders over the phone to a much larger degree even as web ordering was available.
- Women placed more value in the “look” of a company. The logo, the catalog (in fact our cover with a puppy was the all time favorite), the driver appearance, etc seemed to matter much more to our women buyers. It was if they knew that if we didn’t try to look good we probably weren’t any good.
- The male buyers didn’t really care about what they often viewed as a trivial matter. In fact, rarely did they comment on any outward sign of our company. Most probably never knew if we had a logo or not.
- More recently pink office supplies have entered the market place as a small way to both contribute and demonstrate support to breast cancer eradication. Women have embraced this new category enthusiastically. Men however, tend to avoid these products even though they have mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and friends susceptible to this affliction. It is all about the actual color pink in the stigma it still carries for most men. An insecurity issue? Perhaps.
- Both responded well to humor in our sales approach with the women a bit more appreciative than the men.
So what we can we conclude? One should understand that if he/ she has a clearer picture of who they will be dealing with and what they respond to, then the sales efforts can be tailored more specifically to the gender and your success rate will likewise improve.