Retailers lose feminine touch

It’s official, women hate shopping. Remember how, just before Christmas, newspapers were filled with stories about how men hated shopping – as if most women needed reminding?

Well, the latest research shows that women – particularly working women – hate shopping just as much as men. What’s more, they feel retailers aren’t listening to their complaints.

Market research agency GfK GB has just published a report, “Working Women and Retailers”. It reveals that despite efforts retailers are putting into building loyalty, female shoppers just aren’t having fun in store.

GfK’s report is based on a nation-wide sample of 2,000 British women (working full time, part time, and non working). It looks in particular at pressures placed upon working women and how these may result in new demands upon retailers.

The award for the retail sector which offers the worst shopping experience, from a female point of view, goes to car dealerships. Six out of ten women who had visited a car showroom said they disliked the experience.

Banks, electrical goods stores and, suprisingly, chemists also rate badly among working women. Six out of ten (61 per cent) complained about the service offered from banks, while 55 per cent complained about chemists, as opposed to 38 per cent and 43 per cent respectively of non working women.

Only five per cent of full-time working women said they enjoyed shopping in electrical goods stores. All sectors were criticised for rude and unhelpful staff, lack of choice, product information and anti-social opening hours.

The GfK report suggests working women have shorter fuses when it comes to poor service in retail outlets than non-working women.

Under increasing time pressures, they are looking for quicker service – but find their search for speed naturally hindered by shopping in crowds involving inefficient checkouts and queuing.

Shopping-related tasks scored higher on the “annoyance factor” charts with women than housework. For example, on a ten-point scale where ten rates as extremely annoying, paying bills (5.7), ironing (5.6) and laundry (3.4) are less annoying than pushy sales staff (7.5), seeing items on sale for which you paid full price (7.4), or crowding in shops (6.4).

Queuing to pay for goods is annoying (6.4) for female shoppers, but queuing for service is considered worse (6.7). The annoyance factor is higher (7.2) for working women than part-time (6.8) or non working women (6.3).

In addition to introducing better recruitment and training in order to eliminate rude and pushy sales staff, retailers have to radically improve the issues of pricing and queuing if they expect to build loyalty among female customers.

Retailers should provide working women in particular – who often trade price for extra time – with more choice and better systems to ensure that less time is spent in the store. The average housewife spends 39 minutes preparing the evening meal – full-time working women (37.6 minutes), part-time (44.7 minutes) and non working women (41.4 minutes).

Perhaps home shopping schemes should be more widely available, with delivery times catering for working adults.

The top eight annoyance factors among all British women were: pushy sales staff (75 per cent); people who drop litter (56 per cent), waiting in long queues (50 per cent), delays in public transport (43 per cent); traffic jams (40 per cent), receiving junk mail (37 per cent); disruption to TV service (35 per cent) – and sitting too near someone wearing too much perfume (27 per cent).

Retailers thought that faster scanners would shift people through the tills quicker. They do, but playing beat the scanner is high on the complaint list.

Other supermarket frustrations cited by working mothers include: changes to store layout; bored children, lack of toilet facilities, poor hygiene, unfriendly staff, and crowds. These respondents felt hurried and awkward when packing carrier bags at the end of the transaction.

Supermarket shelves came in for criticism. Shelves were poorly lit, not clean and either too high or too low – Sainsbury’s shelves came in for criticism as being “higher than average”. On a scale of one to ten, where ten is extremely annoying, working women gave “changes in store layout” a resounding 6.1. They complained that such changes caused them to stay in the store for longer searching for items and of the frustration of having to leave without said item.

GfK says there has been a perceptible shift on how consumers select a store; from just “location” to a mixture of location, convenience, ease of use (which includes familiarity with store layout and staff attitudes), product quality, store cleanliness, value for money and staff service levels. These considerations contribute to the decision on where money is spent and where the weekly shop takes place.

So, rather than expensive cele-brity stars shouting about product benefits on the TV, perhaps retailers should place more emphasis on service benefits because its seems working women still need to be convinced.

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