Q&A: The Question of Female Consumerism

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11 -- Do women hold the key to national economic recovery? Delia Passi, former publisher of Working Mother and Working Woman magazines, is a consultant to numerous Fortune 500 companies and an expert on the female consumer has noted that female spenders control the majority of consumer spending in the United States. Passi founded WomenCertified(R), a company designed to teach professionals how to effectively communicate with and listen to women in order to educate corporate America on how to provide female customers with a better experience. 

The following is an interview with Delia Passi: 

TNS: What key differences in consumption are there between men and women? 

Passi: In terms of consumer spending, women have the power. Women are responsible for 80% or more of all consumer spending. If we don't purchase it, we probably influence that purchase. In terms of consumption, women are more inclined toward the purchase of consumables, things that we need for the health, happiness and success of our families, whereas men are more likely to purchase assets. This is not to suggest that we are not important asset purchasers. Women buy more new cars than men do, although men purchase more used vehicles. 

TNS: How has the role of women expanded into emerging modes of communication, such as Twitter or Facebook? 

Passi: Women are very social, so social media services are very popular with women. It is also a very important mode of communication about products and services. Women gather a lot of their purchase information online. Younger women are more likely to rely on social media than older women, who are more likely to utilize email for spreading the word. 

TNS: How can companies better broadly adapt their marketing to women? 

Passi: Marketing should not presuppose that women are any less diligent in seeking information from which to make their decisions. We are more likely to do research online before making a purchase. Companies should not rely on simple slogans to project their brand message. They should provide useful information, facts and comparisons if they want to sway women consumers. We read labels. 

TNS: Historically, retail has catered more to women, but with a marketplace that is rapidly becoming more virtual, how can companies accommodate? 

Passi: Women are busier than ever and appreciate any effort by businesses to make purchases possible online instead of in person. To facilitate their buying, businesses should provide lots of information about materials, care, maintenance and service aspects of their products, as well as providing ease of delivery and returns. But women will always enjoy the experience of a shopping trip. There is more to a trip to a mall than making a purchase, although this is the essence of a man's shopping approach, and women take pleasure in the experience. There's something about the experience that is relaxing and helps us deal with stress. Men feel just the opposite. 

TNS: How has WomenCertified assisted companies to better reach women? 

Passi: WomenCertified helps businesses of all kinds provide a more women friendly experience whether that business is a clothing store or a tree service that comes to her home. We also provide those businesses that become WomenCertified with a directory where they can be found by those women who value and seek a better experience. We even help businesses promote their women friendly services through email and social media. 

TNS: Is it easier for larger businesses to affect markets such as women? 

Passi: No more so than in any other measure of marketing power. Larger businesses will always have more resources, but every business can improve their success with women by following the advice they learn through our WomenCertified program. Our WomenCertified business clients run from plumbers to banks to major car companies. 

TNS: Are women "tougher customers"? 

Passi: Women take their role as family purchasing manager very seriously. Yes, they are tougher in that they do seek more information and better treatment than men do, and they often take longer to reach a decision too. But given the economic power they wield, it is important to give them the respect their purchasing power deserves. 

Women are quick to share both positive and negative feedback with friends, family and associates. When women have a good experience they tell the people close to them about it. When they have a bad experience, they tell everyone. Ask any woman if she's ever entered a store only to be told by another woman leaving that she should turn around. Most will have been on one end or the other of that kind of encounter. 

TNS: Is the traditional sales approach model appropriate to the modern woman? 

Passi: Salespeople are often trained to get to the close, the decision, quickly. Women don't respond well to that technique. We want help in coming to a decision, but we certainly don't want to be told what decision to make. 

TNS: How can small budget-conscious businesses reach female markets without costly advertising and marketing changes? 

Passi: We incorporated digital marketing into the services WomenCertified offers because businesses need more than the competitive advantage that WomenCertified can deliver. They also want help in delivering the message to the consumer. Email and social media marketing can be very cost effective when compared to traditional print, radio and television alternatives. 


Zaher Karp is a Targeted News Service freelance writer based in Madison, Wis.