The past two decades has seen a role reversal of sorts taking place: the traditional roles of men and women are being redefined to better reflect today's social norms. Today's American households are looking less like Donna Reed—the paradigm for the ideal 1950's family—and more like Mr. Mom.
Since 1985 there has been a dramatic shift in the composition of male principal shoppers in the U.S. Several factors are contributing to this trend. First, the traditional family unit has multiple variations today. From two working parents to single parent homes, a younger generation is being exposed to new norms. Second, Americans are waiting longer to get married. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008, the median age at first marriage was 27.4 for men and 25.6 for women vs. 25.9 for men and 23.6 for women in 1988. Lastly, Americans are living longer and as Baby Boomers retire, the men of that generation are shopping more than their fathers or grandfathers ever did.
Today, almost one-third of men are now the principal shoppers in the household. With more men in store aisles, marketers need to better understand how to reach this growing segment of shoppers.
Business Week reported in a September 2006 article, "Secrets of The Male Shoppers," that "men buy, women shop: the sexes have different priorities when walking down the aisle." This is an important distinction for marketers to consider when targeting male shoppers.
Nielsen data shows that while females dominate shopping trips in all channels except convenience/gas stores, their share of trips has declined in all outlets from 2004 to 2008/2009. On the other hand, men's share of retail shopping trips has done just the opposite—increased in all outlets. The channels with the greatest relative importance to men include convenience/gas outlets, warehouse clubs and grocery stores.
And while females out spend male shoppers per trip across all retail channels, the average basket size spend differential is not as large as might be expected. The fact that women conduct more "planned" shopping trips than men is one explanation for the higher dollar amount…
Overall, men are substantially increasing their average dollar basket size across all channels—especially in grocery where they have increased spending by 56 percent over a five year span. Additionally, while their share of spending is growing across all retail outlets, women’s share of spending has declined. In the grocery channel, men’s share of dollars increased from 30 percent to 38 percent—a 27 percent increase versus women's decline of 11 percent.
Not just beer and brawn
A shopping report commissioned by ESPN to evaluate Nielsen sales data based on the presence of the male head of house as the primary or secondary shopper on a trip revealed some unexpected findings.
From 2006 to 2008, there has been an upward trend in both the amount of dollars spent by men and their shopping frequency. The occasions when males were the primary or primary/secondary shopper have increased by 4 percent and 3 percent during this two-year time period and the total dollars spent has increased by 8 percent and 7 percent respectively.
And while a high percentage of dollars spent by men are in fairly predictable categories such as grooming care products and alcoholic beverages: men's hair coloring (86 percent); men's depilatories (84 percent); gin (83 percent); scotch (81 percent); and pre-shave cosmetics (80 percent), a peek inside their shopping basket reveals they are likely shopping for the family too.
More than half of the principal male's shopping basket consists of items that indicate they are not just shopping for themselves. Examples include:
Men's External Breathing Aids (61 percent)
Canned Seafood (61 percent)
Refrigerated Juices, Drinks (61 percent)
Prepared Food-Ready-to Serve Stew (59%)
Herbal Package Tea (57 percent)
Prepared Food-Ready-to Serve Lasagna (55 percent)
Health Bars & Sticks (54 percent)
Non-Sliced Refrigerated Lunch Meat (53 percent)
Refrigerated Yogurt and Shakes (52 percent)
Dishwasher Rinsing Aids (52 percent)
Impact on media strategy
Advertisers need to evaluate the importance of men's purchase volume for their brand and competitive brands and determine whether the current media mix appropriately reaches men purchasers. Traditional media tends to fall into 3 categories:
Programming that skew primarily female (network soap operas and female-targeted cable networks like Lifetime and Oxygen)
Programming with evenly skews male/female (network prime time, broad-based cable networks like USA Network)
Programming that skews male (primarily sports networks)
Nielsen conducted an analysis to determine how well a given media schedule was delivering both male and female brand users for a leading brand in the cold remedy category. The findings revealed that men accounted for 48 percent of brand users and 48 percent of brand sales came from shopping trips where the male head of house was the primary/secondary shopper.
And while the advertiser's schedule included a wide mix of broadcast and cable networks, it focused primarily on targeting women and adults. Sports networks accounted for only 2 percent of the schedule's GRPs. This mix resulted in a schedule where only 38% of the brand target impressions fell against men—far less than their share of brand spend.
The male as a principal shopper is not an emerging trend, as marketers have been struggling to understand this segment for over 20 years. But as marketers learn more about where and what this consumer segment buys, they are better able to guide brand positioning and media targeting to capitalize on this target when they are in the aisles.