There's no denying it: Women shop—sometimes by choice, and sometimes by necessity.
Women therefore have a lot of buying decisions to make—for their husbands/partners, kids, parents, and maybe even some friends, in addition to themselves. Today's women, much more than the women of yesteryear, have many more products to choose from for any given purchase. Just consider the different styles, cuts, colors and washes of jeans, or the typical grocery store's expanding cereal aisle.
So, are all these options actually serving consumers today, or does such exhaustive selection make it even harder to decide, and so discourages potential buyers? What if all the great new products and models lining the shelves were actually inspiring people to decide not to decide?
Well, your good intentions to provide everything for everyone have just backfired.
That's where doing your homework of editing choices, or "curating," for the customer comes in. Savvy women are looking for brands and retailers that know them well enough to screen out the less-relevant options and offerings. No matter what the process is called, delivering relevance in products and services by cutting, rearranging, defining, managing or separating good from bad, will earn many a multi-choice-maker's appreciation and trust.
You may need to change your perspective as a marketer, and stop thinking of editing as limiting options. Rather, consider it a way to save potentially wasted time and build trust with your customers.
Cut the Fluff
In The Paradox of Choice (Ecco, 2004), Barry Schwartz writes about "satisficers" who are happy with a few choices. "Maximizers" are defined as seeking and accepting only the best.
With the large number of buying decisions women may need to make for themselves or their loved ones on any given day, many of them may tend to take a "satisficing" approach to most purchases. The satisficing woman thinks, "This backpack is good enough for junior and that type of shampoo will do for the household's shower needs," rather than compare and contrast all the possibilities.
From consumer electronic gadgets with icon overload to retail stores with overly crammed shelves, editing will save time and hassle for the satisficing shoppers in your market. Here are two ideas for cutting the fluff from product or store:
- Limit programmer or designer-driven features to better serve the more basic user. For example, there are likely a lot of people in the world who'd prefer a clean and spare cell phone to one with additional camera, Internet access or text messaging capabilities.
- Narrow your retail product selection to only those most relevant to the lives of your core, passionate customer. Does a typical grocery store in a health-obsessed small town really need to stock the usual sugar-laden cereal options, for example? Or, does every computer store need to carry the entire product lines of their many vendors?
Conducting the first layer of cuts or edits in advance should not add a level of complexity to your process as a marketer, product developer or storeowner. Rather, any editing effort should be inspired by the way the women in your market really use your products or shop your store. Fine-tuning in this way should naturally reflect a more appropriate and customer-desired selection of offerings.
Women will let you know what works and what doesn't for any product, and they will also gladly help you identify which products to leave off the retail shelves altogether.
Curate to Create an Experience
If editing doesn't seem like a fit, perhaps "curating" is a better way to approach your brand's renewed emphasis on delivering exactly what customers are looking for—and no more. If a curated exhibit is developed to best serve or creatively challenge a museum's or gallery's core group of visitors, then a curated brand is one that is designed to be the most relevant for customers.
Most people would not consider time spent in a huge warehouse store with an overwhelming quantity of goods either a pleasurable or efficient experience. That would be akin to visiting a museum that houses all the painting, sculpture and mixed media installations known to man.
In the same way, the experience of shopping at a store with a huge, relatively uncurated product selection can be negative. It may well be a trip that gets put off as long as possible.
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests in his now classic work FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper & Row, 1990), an optimal experience needs to be something that can be completed. So if Csikszentmihalyi's work is applied to creating an optimal customer experience, how would that look?
A curated art exhibit, for example, is designed and developed to flow logically or intuitively, as well as to have a beginning and end. Visitors likely don't leave a museum missing the many existing works that weren't included in the show. Rather, they leave having appreciated and learned from the contained and organized story of a moment in art history or the particular selection of artists displayed. It is a positive way to spend time.
With the help of customer feedback and regular interaction, a brand should be able to provide a selection and experience that is as accessible and pleasing as just such a curated museum exhibit. All the elements of the shopping process should work well together, and all the senses should be addressed, where appropriate. This sort of designed buying path organization allows for a person's creative flow, without letting him or her meander into the oblivion of shopping never-never land.
Certainly, a business or brand "curation," offline or online, differs from a museum show in that you want customers to return again and again. But therein lies the opportunity. Continual refreshing and fine-tuning of selection or product benefits is already a matter of course, so a well-curated shopping experience can be renewed that much more easily than a new exhibit can be launched.
Add and subtract elements along your customer's buying path with the intention and eye of an exhibit designer. By curating a brand or retail experience in this way, you ensure the shopper will be given an efficient path to optimal buying satisfaction.
Filter to Serve 'Web Thinkers'
By nature, editing or curating for a woman's buying mind rather than for a man's can be more challenging. In fact, men tend to think more linearly, according to Helen Fisher, sociologist and The First Sex author. Women are more multi-sensing "web thinkers."
In terms of consumer purchases, this may mean that men display more interest in product features or linear facts, like gigabytes or horsepower, that can be easily compared. Women, on the other hand, may be likely to take into account much more than facts and features when making their purchasing decisions.
Web-thinking women could well be considering sales-staff friendliness, background music, and store neatness just as much as product selection. And, the intangible, unpredictable element of emotion is also a part of the mix of things influencing their buys.
With all those many, hard-to-measure factors influencing a woman's purchase decision, the process is a lot more complex. A trusted brand that filters the chaff from the wheat before customers even walk in the door or visit the Web site reflects an intimate knowledge and commitment to its market. All brands should strive to know their customers well enough to judge what really fits their lives and what absolutely doesn't, beyond the facts and features.
With the help of trusted filters, women can more efficiently make their daily "satisficing" purchase choices. The idea of missing out on something with possibly better features, like that much more horsepower or a higher Consumer Reports rating, likely won't matter to women with their exponential list of decisions to be made.
Less Is More... Relevant
While it may well be easier for local retailers to tap the up-close-and-personal level of customer knowledge it takes to edit, curate or filter appropriately, bigger brands need to work toward this level of connection as well. Only by achieving a similarly in-depth understanding of their customers can product developers and marketers become the best editors for their market, stay relevant, and thus stay competitive in this world of abundance.
Whether new product design, Web site development or retail store look and feel, as long as companies take the time and commit to truly understanding their customers, they can embrace the limitations and provide only that which matters.
Whatever occurs over time to disconnect brands from their female customers, some form of editing—based on real knowledge of, and interaction with, the market—can forge a strong reconnection. Leave the "be everything for everyone" perspective to the competition.
Limit the abundance of your products and services, features and functions, and curate your way to a woman's multi-sensory buying mind instead. True relevance makes less that much more.