Lee Eisenberg has enjoyed a varied and distinguished career on both the creative and business sides in both the publishing and marketing worlds. As editor-in-chief of Esquire, he led the magazine to numerous national awards in diverse categories such as general excellence, reporting, and design.
In 2006, Eisenberg began work on Shoptimism, published in November, 2009. The quest included a stint as a clerk at Target, numerous encounters with leading academic and marketing experts, a probe into the brave new world of online chatter, repeated forays into stores of every description, where Eisenberg observed the behavior – rational and otherwise – of strangers, friends, and family members, who kept on shopping through economic good times, then bad.
Question: What is the psychology of men and women when it comes to spending
Lee Eisenberg: The canard is, the cliché is, that women shop and men buy, which is to say, men are divided into these two categories: they're either grab-and-goers -- you know, the guys who run in; where is it? I hate shopping; I'm out of here; goodbye; or they're classified as wait-and-whiners -- you know, when they go out with their spouse or their partner, we've both seen them on a Saturday afternoon, sitting there, you know, solemnly on a bench, if there is a bench, in the department store, really grumpy that they have to be forced into doing that as opposed to lying on the couch watching ESPN on a Saturday afternoon. So men have been cast as these characters who hate shopping.
Women, on the other hand, have been unfairly cast as these creatures who were built to shop; you know, who can barely tell the difference between shopping and entertainment, or shopping and recreation. So one of the things I did in connection with the book was to go shopping with a great many men and a great many women. And what I find is that yeah, most men tend to be a little more impatient than women, but I found a great many women who like nothing else than to grab and go, and who really detested the act of shopping. And I found a lot of men who, while they wouldn't necessarily admit to it easily, really did like to shop.
The other interesting thing about men and women is that women, I think, have taken the rap for being shopaholics, for being compulsive buyers. And there was a major study, probably the biggest study yet done on compulsive buying, published last year. And it was found that there are proportionately as many males who qualify as compulsive buyers as women. But men have an interesting dodge: you know, ask a man who, you know, acquires 200 digital cameras even though he never takes a photograph whether he's a compulsive buyer of digital cameras, and he will say, no, no, no, I'm not a shopaholic; I'm a collector. And I think men have been able to hide behind collecting a little bit more successfully than women have in terms of maybe being out of control in terms of buying either a category of something or anything and everything.
That said, there are some differences. Statistically, men hate to return things to stores. Women return more. They buy more, they shop more, so they return more. But they also seem to have an easier psychological time returning to a store. Men, when you ask them why -- you know, you brought it home; it doesn't work or you can't figure it out; or you bought it with too many features or buttons or options; you can't work it -- why don't you just take it back? Men -- or it's a -- a thread is coming out -- something is wrong -- or it's the wrong size -- men will often not take it back to the store. And if you press them and say, well, why not? First of all it means another trip back to the store, which may be overwhelmingly too tedious or onerous to do, but a lot of men really fear the confrontation that almost never takes place at a store, that fear that there's going to be some kind of a conflict, or a little bit of a conflict or confrontation. And they would just as soon avoid that. Now in fact, most retailers, or most good retailers, make returning things as hassle-free as possible because it's far better business to return something and not lose a customer for life than to give somebody a hard time over the return of one object and never see that person again. So men have all these fears.
The other group, by the way -- and it's a male and female group -- that has a very high rate of unwillingness when it comes to returning things are college students. And again, maybe some of the same reasons. They don't want the confrontation, or they're too slothful, or whatever it might be. But they don't return goods either.
Recorded on November 9, 2009