Yet another women and purchasing power list o’ facts (and omissions)

85% of all brand purchases are made by women
~ She-conomy

This particular list is from She-conomy | A guy’s guide to marketing to women: MARKETING TO WOMEN QUICK FACTS. Like all these lists (incidentally so currently beloved by MRAs), it presents women as having an amazing amount of purchasing power compared to men. Yet, yet again, it makes no distinction between
*discretionary personal spending which a woman can choose not to do and nobody except herself will care
*necessary household spending, which if the woman doesn’t do then somebody else has to get it done.

If products purchased for a household are deemed necessary by the members of a household, yet only one of the household members is the person who goes out to collect and pay for those things, is this really an exercise of power? Or just the fulfilling of a delegated logistical responsibility? After all, the person who collects and pays over money for military materiel is the unit’s Quartermaster, but I’ve never heard anybody suggest that a Quartermaster really has more purchasing power than that unit’s CO, because it is the CO who determines the parameters of the required materiel, the QM just makes sure it’s there when it’s needed. Even in a hippy commune applying a rigorously egalitarian rota system and consensus decision-making, it’s still probably going to only be one or two of the members each week doing the market run in order to acquire what the whole group needs – it’s still a matter of delegation of a task/chore.

Some of the insights in that Quick Facts article about which products a QM woman might prefer over a rival product and for what reasons are I’m sure very useful insights for marketers and I don’t have any quibble with those points, particularly about the growing consumer independence of ageing female Boomers. But this sort of bald statistic (that “85% of all brand purchases are made by women”) without even an asterisk added to indicate that there might be a few qualifiers to be taken into consideration?

This is the sort of stuff that just feeds the fevered imaginations of MRAs who overlook the “brand” in that website’s pull-quote (after all, if it’s not a brand then it won’t have a marketing budget, so unbranded purchases are naturally enough overlooked on a marketing website): let’s estimate how many brands are purchased in a shopping trolley full of a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four? 50+ is easily done – after all, even apples and bananas are branded these days. Now how many brands are purchased by a man “networking” down the pub drinking a round of shouts? 3 or 4, tops? Is picking up the tab for a business lunch considered purchasing any brands at all?

mr tog and I make the weekly shopping list together – we both have favourite brands for some things and look for bargains for others – the parameters are agreed by both of us. Most of the time, I’m the one who gets the grocery shopping during the day while it’s not so crowded, so I’m the one who gets in 30-40 brand purchases per week at the supermarket. By comparison, my husband buys one weekly train ticket (is State Rail a “brand”?) and buys his lunch freshly made from a sandwich/salad shop every day – that probably doesn’t count as a “brand”. Once or twice a month he goes to drinks after work and buys a few rounds – 2 or 3 brands there. We tend to take turns to pay for branded fuel depending on who is driving when the gauge drops down to 1/4 full.

We engaged in a lot of market research before we bought our last car, did the test drives together of the 3 competing brands that we narrowed it down to, and signed the papers together. However, I was the one who went to take delivery of the car and make the final payment, again because it was easier to do it during the day, and as a free-lancer I have the more flexible hours. How did that purchase look to whoever tallied up these things for the marketing division – was it noted down as a joint purchase, or was it noted down as a woman’s purchase?

We needed a new laptop. We’d discussed it, what sort of processor and other features it should have. I was the one who went and bought it. I’m not the only one who uses it.

So colour me skeptical, deeply skeptical.

Categories: gender & feminism, language, media, Science


14 replies

  1. They don’t, from what you have said, seem to have drilled down very far into the results and what they mean. I wouldn’t be happy if I’d paid big $ for market research and got this.

  2. I wouldn’t think much of anyone would be happy with this level of analysis, starting with “Results based on purchases made using a credit/debit card attributing the card owner’s gender from vendors X, Y and Q” and ending sometime before “given our current level of knowledge about noodle theory, Descartes, wormholes, card fraud, the matrix and M space, it is impossible to state that anything is real” with the usual legal proviso “this product may contain traces of nuts, milk product, feegles* and/or crustacea”.
    I think it’s a great example of why not to take a statement at face value, particularly since it probably doesn’t include purchases using currency with a face value.
    *they get in everywhere, particularly if you don’t want them to.

  3. The data they are basing their conclusions does seem rather flawed. However surveys I’ve done recently ask both who does the purchasing as well as the level of influence you have for purchases so industry is probably getting much better quality information.
    That said, I’m not sure that discretionary vs necessary is that important a distinction. You might need bread/milk but if you get to choose which brand to buy then from the seller’s point of view you have the purchasing power, even though from your point of view it might not seem that way since you have no choice but to buy bread & milk and can’t spend the money on a DVD.

    We tend to take turns to pay for branded fuel depending on who is driving when the gauge drops down to 1/4 full.

    Heh, depends on where you live but the different brands often come from the same refinery anyway (the brands supply each other). Probably true for a lot of branded stuff in supermarkets like milk too!

  4. I’d agree that the discretionary vs necessary doesn’t matter much in terms of marketing analysis – they only care who is deciding to pick up one packet versus another packet from the shelves, and how they might persuade them to pick a different one instead.
    From the point of view of countering the MRAs who misrepresent this bald statistic in order to “PROVE” that since women buy 85% of everything thus all women everywhere are gold-digging whores who care about nothing but money? Which spending is discretionary vs which is a necessary chore is a very important point to emphasise there.

  5. OT but I usually purchase my branded fuel in a panic when the empty light is blinking! I am very impressed with your level of organisation.
    On topic, I was also wondering why it matters to the marketers whether you’re exercising a power or a duty. I have the feeling they use the phrase “purchasing power” mainly because it is nicely alliterative.

    • I think our comments crossed, Tamara. If you scroll up, you’ll see I’m not expecting the marketers to care re discretionary vs necessary spending. It’s important to emphasise which is which for other reasons.

  6. thanks tigtog, I naively was not aware of the way MRAs abuse this information.

  7. tigtog @ 5 – agreed that would be a total misuse of the data.

  8. From the point of view of countering the MRAs who misrepresent this bald statistic in order to “PROVE” that since women buy 85% of everything thus all women everywhere are gold-digging whores who care about nothing but money? Which spending is discretionary vs which is a necessary chore is a very important point to emphasise there.

    I think this topic is worthy of being added to Finally Feminism 101, since it’s a regular MRA talking point.

  9. The discretionary v necessary spending distinction may well need to be pointed out if someone is crazy enough to use those stats in a gold-digging argument, but I don’t think it’s all that relevant to the marketing point being made. On the other hand, the different distinction your examples seem to be making, between delegated decision-making responsibility and follow-through-on-a-joint-decision responsibility, is a reason to be sceptical of the marketing arguments in themselves.

    • I do realise that it’s hard to believe how often this stat is dragged out by He-Man-She-Haters MRM fringe, but without it being one of those things that keeps getting dragged out as “proof” of HOW WOMEN ARE AWFUL I probably would never have bothered to comment on this otherwise trivially annoying piece of marketspeak at all.

  10. Marketers, as you’ve since pointed out, doesn’t really care *why* the woman is the one making the choice between Kelloggs and Nestle, it may very well be that she does it because she’s taken on the duty of grocery-shopping, and the same purchase would’ve been made by the man if she hadn’t, but they don’t really care about that.
    I wonder if they’re counting by number-of-decisions or by number-of-dollars. While men make fewer brand-choices, I think they make a higher fraction of the high-value decisions. If one person goes grocery-shopping for a year and makes 2000 different brand-decisions, on a dollar-basis that’s still dwarved by the purcase of a single car.
    I do tend to buy more non-brand generics, compared to my wife, and perhaps there’s some slight difference here, but certainly nothing like a 85/15 split.

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