Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The X and Y of Buy

I confess to being very fond of shopping. When I saw that Thomas Nelson had a new release on why and how men and women make decisions on purchases, I requested it right away through the Book Review Bloggers program, and settled down for what I hoped would be an entertaining as well as illuminating read.

According to Elizabeth Pace’s The X and Y of Buy, women and men operate differently on a psychological level – caused by genetics, by brain structure and chemistry, by millions of years of evolution – and one expression of this is the way that they shop. The book is structured to provide help and advice for salespeople to deal with both kinds of customers.

A man’s approach tends to be direct and finely-focused, while a woman’s approach is more likely to be holistic, taking several factors into account. This is illustrated by a Cautionary Tale of a BMW salesman who tried to sell a car to the author, but dismissed her question about the cupholder, or lack thereof. To him, the important things were the car’s design and performance – the driving experience, in other words. To her, all the other experiences she would have while driving were as important.

And of course, she didn’t like her concern being trivialized.

The book also describes how successful advertising appeals in different ways to men and women. For instance, many ads aimed at men focus on conquering one’s environment. Ads aimed at women, on the other hand, focus on successfully integrating the different parts of a woman’s environment – job and family and self and community.

Finally, the book covers ways in which to communicate when selling to men and women (e.g. whether to nod in agreement or acknowledgment, allow the buyer private time to make a decision and so on). I would have liked a few more memorable examples like the BMW salesman, though. I’m not a businessperson, so I can’t evaluate the book from that perspective, but from a layperson’s point of view, it was an interesting enough read.

When I read books on business, I often try to relate the advice in them to writing (because to me that’s the most entertaining business of all). And one suggestion leaped out at me: an easy way to make sure your product or presentation stays in the customer’s mind is to make them feel strongly about it. Try to make your book or story have an emotional effect on the readers, in other words.

This is something writers of fiction do on a regular basis, but it also applies with non-fiction. Perhaps even more so, if the writers want to reach readers who may not share their interest in a topic or their position on a controversial issue.


Anonymous said...

I read one interesting theory (BBC science pages I think) that said men and women shop in a way that difffers very little from the stone age gender roles of Hunters & Gatherers. Men have a this is my plan I will go to x, get y, then go home mentality. Women tending more to go to A,B, and C, to check what's available then choose a based on what's suitable.

Marian said...

Hey Lee,

The book said that as well; men see the acquisition in a more linear way, so they don't want to be given an errand to pick up milk as well if they're going to the hardware store. Even if the grocery store is on their way.

I'd to get some men in a group and question them on this.

GunnerJ said...

I take a default position of extreme skepticism towards popular evolutionary-psychology explanations for supposed differences in behavior between men and women because they so often end up being nothing but "just so" stories which justify existing gender roles. They seem plausible enough but lack any corroborating evidence outside of the phenomenon they attempt to explain.

For example, why should I assume that the "men are direct and finely-focused, women are holistic" roles are caused by genetics or evolution? Why should we discount an alternate explanation, that these personality traits exist because of cultural socialization which teaches boys to be direct and finely-focused, and girls to be "holistic"? There is ample evidence of such cultural forces, including pop-evo-psych explanations like those found in this book!

So often these explanations go back to stories about "hunter-gatherers," which themselves seem to be more of a stereotype than a complex picture of the actual conditions of paleolithic hunter-gathering lifestyles. Even if we discount the possibility that the common reconstruction of these ancient ways of life in anthropology might have been biased by the researchers' assumptions about gender roles, or that the popular conception of such anthropological findings has been simplified and distorted by these biases, and take the "men hunt and women gather" trope at face value, isn't it a much simpler explanation that men are simply physically stronger than women on average and thus were more likely to handle physically dangerous or demanding jobs like hunting? Rather than positing some genetic/psychological connection built up by evolution without any corroborating evidence?

And anyway, who cares? How does it help you sell a car to believe that the first thing Grog the Caveman wanted to do in the morning was go directly to a mammoth and club it to death while Mrs. Grog went berry picking? If this behavioral breakdown of men as "direct" and women as "holistic" holds true, then it doesn't really matter why. Trying to tie it to evolution seems like a tacky way of trying to strengthen one's point with a thin veneer of scientific authority.

As a side note, I am a man and I try as hard as I can to chain trips together such that I am doing all my errands on the way to or returning from some other errand. It's simply more efficient, in terms of time and fuel. I don't have any personal experiences that would lead me to believe that men are on the whole more likely to not want to pick up milk on the way back from the hardware store; or at least, I'd suggest simple laziness or apathy about getting milk over some kind of gender essentialism as an explanation.

Pink Ink said...

I love reading behavioral books like the one you mentioned. People are fascinating.

My hubby laughs though when I bring home relationship ones, because I guess it tells him my concerns about OUR relationship.