Shop Talk - May 2007

By Alisa Pucher

Women don’t think, act, or buy products the same way men do. There, it’s out in the open—a floorcovering retailer’s worst nightmare confirmed. If the phrases running through your mind at the moment include the words “duh,” “Sherlock” or “rocket scientist,” then a gentle reminder is in order. Don’t dismiss the fact that women are different. Do something about it if you want your business to improve dramatically. 

Women make or influence 80% to 90% of all household purchasing decisions, including those made in areas traditionally thought of as male oriented, such as financial services, cars and electronics. Plus, the education levels and earning power of women in this country are growing by leaps and bounds. SHE is your customer and your success is directly tied to how well you understand what she wants in products for her home and in the shopping experience that gets her there. 

Generalizations can be dangerous, but since floorcovering is a male dominated industry reaching out to a female dominated customer base, observing some basic patterns and behaviors will set the stage for the practical tips and suggestions to come.

• Women are information gatherers. 

And no, fiber content and warranty details are not the information I’m talking about. Her floorcovering purchase is part of a larger project called “Home” and a great deal of thought will go into the products chosen and their performance characteristics as she seeks the perfect solution for her needs. Of greater importance is the aesthetic value of the choices available—what will the floor look like and how will it make her feel? 

Women will want to take in a broad survey of the options and then narrow the field as they learn more. Sources of information will include the Internet, shelter magazines, HGTV, recommendations and advice from friends and family and maybe a visit to your store. It’s important to recognize and honor where a customer is in the shopping process. An attempt to close a sale when a woman is still gathering details will be perceived as pushy and aggressive and may send her straight to your competitor. 

• It’s all in the details.

Men generally prefer a few bullet points and a move to the bottom line. Women prefer the richness and sense of completion that details bring to a situation, and women notice everything—the good and the bad! That doesn’t mean that women act on every detail they collect, but you can be certain that things like interior ambiance, store cleanliness, and conversations and interactions with your staff and other customers in the store will create an overall impression that will play as large a role in her purchase decision as product selection and advertising will. 

• Relationships are Everything.

The key difference between men and women in business can be summed up this way: men build relationships from business and women build business from relationships. Trust and rapport are the two most important things that women will be looking for in their interactions in your store and effective, facilitative conversation will be the main ingredient of success. Remember that conversation is more than just words; facial expression and body language can be more telling and you may not get a second chance if the two are in conflict. The issue that the female shopper is addressing here is “I have a vision for this project/room. Does this company/salesperson understand my vision?” 

I would never pretend to speak for every woman or assume that the three generalizations above will be the guiding force in every sales transaction, but as I read over the words I’ve written, a true story comes to mind.

My fiancé and I live in separate cities and, in fact, in separate states. One weekend when I was visiting him he decided that the 20” TV we had been squinting to see was not enough and we set off in search of something more suitable. Understand that electronics are very low on my priority list, so I was content just to go along for the ride and to provide moral support as needed. 

John chose to go to Best Buy. For me the experience wasn’t good. We managed to flag down three different salespeople, but none of them were able to educate us beyond the three or four lines of copy that were on the small signs in front of each TV. In fact, none of them could even address the pros or cons of the different types of TVs, so we could then begin to think about brand, size and features. We finally did find help in the form of a woman who worked for one of the TV manufacturers. At last, some information, but sadly not from an impartial source.

John bought a TV that day and he’s been very pleased with it since. Thank goodness for Best Buy that this was his purchase and not mine. In an effort not to nag, I only suggested that we find an independent retailer once, but I found myself angry and frustrated. Frankly, I wouldn’t have purchased there if they had offered me a 60” plasma TV for $500! (That’s another thing about women: once we’ve had a bad experience you’ll probably not get us back. And because we’re communicators, we’ll share our story with others to save them the pain!)

I now realize that my experience at Best Buy was driven by the fact that I was prevented from exercising two of the three behaviors that were critical to me. We failed to gather much information (and certainly not enough to validate a purchase that large, in my mind) and a sales experience based on any kind of relationship was out of the question. John wanted to go home with a TV. I just wanted to go home and start over again tomorrow.

The advertising and drawing power of national retailers may allow them to ignore some aspects of consumer spending habits, but as an independent floorcovering retailer I don’t have that luxury. Do you? In the next column, I’ll examine the actual selling process and offer suggestions that will help you and your staff gather and give information, make the sale and gain a customer for life.

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus