Now that we've touched on the science of a woman's brain, and how to apply some of those insights to marketing more effectively, let's take a closer look at the art of her buying behavior. For a woman , the process of buying is much more complicated than simply thinking up a need and rushing to the store with credit card in hand. We've broken the art into four key characteristics that define what goes into women's typical buying processes. We've also added a few comments from women to demonstrate each characteristic.
First of all, good old hands-on experience and simple observation combine to make women smart shoppers right from the start. Most women have grown up watching their mothers manage households, so shopping efficiently comes almost second nature to them. Whether selecting a stock or finding a pediatrician, the majority of women go through a buying process that involves, in no particular order: consulting friends , comparison shopping, checking several reference resources and getting validation from trusted experts or word-of-mouth sources (including their family).
To sales people or her own family, a woman's prepurchase mulling over big-ticket items, or emotionally significant or firsttime purchases, can seem overly thorough (and feel like it takes forever). However, once she completes her due diligence and identifies the best product or service to purchase, a woman will often stay brand loyal longer. She put a lot of upfront effort into learning the industry and making comparisons and, unless proven otherwise , will hold onto her trust in that decision.
I am willing to spend more time doing research before I make a new purchase, because I know from experience that it will cost me time, energy and money to correct a mistake. My goal is not to make just a good choice, but to make the best choice for me.
”Kim O., age 29, accountant
Create a sales culture that is committed to helping women determine the best choice, not to closing the quickest sale.
Equip, encourage and empower your sales and customer-service staff to go the extra mile and take the added time for customers and prospects. Nordstrom is famous for empowering their sales people to make the exchange process simple, easy and even pleasant. At a Nordstrom store, you can just relax and conduct your business, knowing that you'll never have to concoct an elaborate reason for exchanging goods.
Where possible, companies should enable the same customer service representative to work with a customer until their needs are resolved (whether that takes thirty minutes or thirty days). Companies with large-scale customer support would certainly find such personal attention too costly, so a code number that follows customer service inquiries throughout the system would be a sufficient compromise. Whatever you do, give your staff the leeway to access any customer's record, anytime , to save the customer from having to retell her entire tale of frustration every time she calls for a status report.
Women set their priorities according to the needs of the people most dear to them, their "constituents." No matter what the topic, a woman's perspective will lead her to include in her point of view her spouse, significant other, children, grandchildren, aging parents, employees , friends and, yes, even her pets. So, rather than being "all about me," the purchases made or directly influenced by a female consumer are more often than not for or about her loved ones.
Women typically have the responsibility for the majority of household purchasing decisions, running the gamut from real estate and financial services to major household goods and automobiles. As we already know, women make the majority of consumer purchases and sign the most personal checks and credit and debit card slips as well. That noted, patronizing women or treating them as though they were industry-ignorant during any contact in a purchasing process, from information gathering to possible returns, would likely end a customer relationship before it even started.
More traditionally male-dominated industries, like the marine industry for example, might have to try a little harder to overcome treating women or new-to-industry consumers in a condescending manner. In fact, when we talked with a boat manufacturer's female marketing director recently, she told us that she still occasionally witnessed salesmen (yes, still mostly men) at boat shows making eye contact only with the husband or boyfriend, and at times actually giving the woman buyer the cold shoulder.
Can you make sure you are honoring your female customers as the legitimate purchase decision-makers they are?
Identify and assist the ways in which women support family members (husband, kids , aging parents) with purchases. For example, women often play the doctor role in their families and are involved in the majority of all health-care decisions, including the purchase of over-the-counter drugs or remedies. So, help them keep track of their many family prescriptions; and, gather information (where appropriate and with permission) that will help you offer discounts for the items or brands they frequently purchase.
My radar is always on, so I'm continuously picking up information that will solve a future problem for my dad or someone else in my family. I tend to be the one who does all the shopping legwork to identify and buy the product we need.
”Kris H., age 38, dental assistant
Position your services and offers based on how they will benefit the others in her life as well as her. A department store's one-stop shopping that serves entire families is one standard example of this concept. A few more examples include: Jiffy Lube shops that now have a child's play area in their waiting rooms; and financial planners who now offer information on retirement for women as well as information to help them guide their aging parents with postretirement financial decisions.
Educate your staff (all of them) to serve women well, right from the start. Make sure they know your customer demographics and realize the value and buying power of women. The beginning, or investigative, stage of a woman's purchasing process presents an important opportunity to foster brand loyalty and trust. Women are more inclined to purchase from the brands that equip them with relevant information and treat them right long before money changes hands. Body language and inclusiveness speak volumes . Always have your staff make eye contact with women customers, or create a similar honest and direct presence online. Furthermore, be sure to structure inclusive conversations that respect her opinions and concerns, and provide an environment that encourages deeper questions about your product or service.
When a woman is ready to try a new product or service, her first research step is to turn to someone who already owns and uses it. The insider is that person who provides credible, hard-to-find information on an unfamiliar product or industry, and who a woman can perceive as unbiased and trustworthy. In most cases, the perfect insider may well be a friend who is also a fellow consumer of that product, but there are some exceptional sales people and a few specific personalities who can earn this coveted insider role as well (for example, Oprah Winfrey on her book and product recommendations). And, in the cyber world, the e- mails on NYC and LA Daily Candy (http://www.dailycandy.com), with all their references to little-known and out-of-the-way shops and restaurants , can certainly feel like the inside scoop from a friend.
Recognize, respect and utilize the power of a woman's personal network by providing pass-along devices (online and print) and by seeking referrals. Give women a quick and easy way to share their newfound knowledge with others. For example, include "Send to a friend" and "Printer version" features on relevant e-mail messages or Web pages.
Maintain some level of interaction (live or via e-mail) through all phases of the marketing, sales and customer-service cycle.
Understand and honor the fact that some purchasing decisions may take longer to make because of the time a woman may need to solicit the opinions of others. No need to rush when you are trying to earn a woman's trust.
I always ask the advice of people who I already know own the product. It's the fastest way to zero in on what few brands I should consider. Since they have nothing to gain from telling me about their experiences, I trust what they have to say.
”Darcy P., age 23, office manager
If women feel they've forged a connection with your company during the information-gathering and pre-sale process, they will expect that same sort of relationship to continue into the postpurchase, product-support phase. (Interestingly, according to retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, men often prefer to gather information from product displays and brochures , rather than seek out the personal touch in their buying process that is so important to women.) 
Provide women with both the information and the time to discuss, assimilate and understand it.
Provide top-quality, well-trained personnel for customer-service roles via phone, e-mail or online chat.
Make sure that e-mails and Web pages provide and facilitate the use of a toll-free phone number and personalized e-mail addresses, rather than just "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Develop an expert personality, or "virtual human," who answers your Q&A ”equipped with a personalized e-mail address and a team of people to draft responses. We can both attest that we'd rather pose questions directly to "Stan Johnson" at the home electronics retailer, for example, than to some anonymous "questions@homeelectronics retailer.com." Whether Stan really exists or is some team member who actually answers our e-mail isn't the issue: It feels more human and personalized to send questions to an actual name .
Rename and repackage your expert consultation and customer services to make them less intimidating and more accessible to novices. For example, free "financial coaching appointments" sounds more comfortable to a person in the investigative stage than does a "sales appointment" with a broker.
Just as women put their feelers out via their human networks, they will also gather data through their own reading and research. Especially when contemplating major purchases, women tend to spend time to educate themselves on the features, benefits, price range and reliability of the available brands. In addition to using traditional information resources, like magazine articles, television programs and buying guides, an increasing number of women now look to the Internet for further help, including the peer and expert recommendations available on sites like Epinions.com.
Starbucks built on peer recommendations and insider scoop by developing and selling "Artist's Choice" CDs, featuring compilations of songs that inspired popular artists like Sheryl Crow. It makes sense that people who enjoy Sheryl Crow's music might also like the music she recommends.
I usually investigate on my own to see how different products rate against each other, and the Internet has made that process a lot easier. In a few cases, I buy a book written on the topic and see what the author recommends.
”Annie L., age 63, retired teacher
It may seem counterintuitive, but a quality brand shouldn't fear comparison-shopping by its customers. Rather, such a brand should wholeheartedly encourage and support that process. After all, when a woman delves deep to find out more about an industry, she should decide that your product or service ranks right up there at the top!
Listen to women carefully in advance of developing your materials, and provide the specific education, programs and industry standards that will allow them greater confidence in making decisions related to your product or service.
Provide a comparison matrix of your product's features against those of its competitors . It's worth the risk. Even if a woman ends up buying one of the other brands this time, she will return to your site to do her research, realizing that your company is helping her the most with her decisions.
Include those things that might be considered insider information or expert opinion in your marketing materials (on- or off-line), such as consumer testimonials, expert reviews, awards and seals of approval.
Offer handouts and e-mail courses and advice on what to look for (and avoid) when making a purchase of this general type of product or service. Also, provide a resource list and recommend books and Web sites or online content (with links) to facilitate a woman's comparison shopping.
 Paco Underhill, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), page 124. Also see http://www.envirosell.com.