Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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June 01
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AUGUST 6, 2010 7:58AM

Why do women shop? Science has the answer

Rate: 14 Flag

 Sex and the City
The brave new world of marketing:
Where "Sex and the City" meets Darwin



It’s the oldest cliché in the Western world, and it isn't even wrong: women love sexy clothes. According to a 2007 US consumer spending survey, the average household expenditure for women’s and girl’s clothing amounted to $749, compared with just $435 for men and boys. And, as a survey by the Daily Mail discovered four years ago, women spend a whopping eight and a half years of their lives shopping, much of this time being spent in clothing stores. But why do women devote so many resources to their wardrobe? Is it really a ruse to help them nab Mr. Right or are their motives more subtle?


Ask no more: The answer, it seems, is hormones (what else?). A new study from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management entitled "Ovulation, Female Competition, and Product Choice: Hormonal Influences on Consumer Behavior," to be published soon in the Journal of Consumer Research, suggests that ovulating women are far more likely to spend money on sexy clothes than women at a different point in their monthly cycle. The researchers selected a group of ovulating women and asked them to look at a series of good-looking women living in their immediate area. Then they asked them to choose clothing and accessories that they would like to purchase. A majority of the women chose sexier products than another group of ovulating women who had viewed photographs of plain women or of attractive women who lived more than 1,000 miles away from them. A further group of non-ovulating women remained utterly uninfluenced by the images.


Is shopping a survival strategy?


The implication, according to the researchers, is that the women do not buy sexy clothes – along with shoes, cosmetics, health supplements and a world of other products – to attract men directly, but rather to edge out their female rivals. Kristina Durante, a post-doctoral student at the school, says in a university press release that "if you look more desirable than your competition, you are more likely to stand out" in the competition over desirable male partners. "In order to entice a desirable mate, a woman needs to assess the attractiveness of other women in her local environment to determine how eye-catching she needs to be to snare a good man."


What a brilliant use of modern science! The implications for the fashion and cosmetics industries are enormous, as biological determinism once more becomes the watchword of the future. After all, "for about five to six days every month, normally ovulating women - constituting over a billion consumers - may be especially likely to purchase products and services that enhance physical appearance," Durante says. Clearly, once marketing experts find a way to tap directly into this potential, it will revolutionize the profession. As evolutionary biologists get into the act, look for advertising to go not only viral, but also hormonal.

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Thanks, Kathy. I'm putting my money on a whole new system of scratch-and-sniff ads in Vogue. :-)
Great, so now the advertisers, not to mention the designers and manufacturers, are going to use science to support their contention that post-menopausal women don't shop? No wonder I'm crabby. Hello, I like to shop too...or I would if you'd show me things I can relate to.
I'd say it's a mathematical certainty...
Thank you, Judy. God, I love women. Women have always been fascinating to me, and I have the scars to prove it. Now, in my later years my focus is more on my daughters and granddaughters.

I had always assumed that woman's urge to shop was a leftover from the hunter-gatherer days, shopping being a modern “gathering.” This is a little more sophisticated insight into the phenomenon as it relates to personal adornment.

Maybe Schopenhauer was onto something in The World as Will and Idea when he proposed that the will to reproduce forms all human existence.

The relation of the sexes . . . is really the invisible central point of all action and conduct, and peeps out everywhere in spite of all veils thrown over it. It is the cause of war and the end of peace; the basis of what is serious, and the aim of jest; the inexhaustible source of wit, the key of all illusions, and the meaning of all mysterious hints.

We see it at every moment seat itself, as the true and hereditary lord of the world, out of the fullness of its own strength, upon the ancestral throne; and looking down thence with scornful glance, laugh at the preparations made to bind it, or imprison it, or at least limit it and, whenever possible, keep it concealed, and even so to master it that it shall only appear as a subordinate, secondary concern of life.
Hmm, so it's Darwin vs. Schopenhauer - that should make for some interesting ad campaigns!
I am a serious shopper and I would add another Darwinian component, The thrill of the hunt!
Let us not forget The Hunt For The Ultimate Bargain! So far, my penultimate find was Prada patent flats for $79.00. Bwahahahahaha!
meiyourenqing meiyou,
Nice try, but wrong time of the month ;-)
That was seriously funny.
This is entirely plausible. I have quite the genes for "gathering" myself. Just waiting for pheromones to be pumped into the local mall...
I’m not going to rush to rule out the validity of this research project but I’m skeptical. I suspect the best research projects being done on the subject aren’t being presented to the public for one simple reason. They don’t want the public to know how they manipulate them or to know that they are studying how to be more effective when the manipulate the public.

If you look closely in the right places it will be clear that some psychologists and sociologists are working for marketing researchers. They are constantly trying to study more effective ways to manipulate the public and they don’t want this activity broadcasted. Sometimes it does make it into the view of the public but this is rare. One example is when James Garbarino cited some research that was being done to market to children and he mentioned an effort within the American Psychology Association to raise ethical considerations about it. It failed presumably and at times people from the Mass Media criticized James Garbarino for calling for censorship. They failed to mention that they rarely if ever give people like Garbarino and other credible academics who understand the root causes of violence to explain this to the public which means they are the ones actually doing the censorship. But I’ve strayed off topic now oh well.
Sorry Judy, I can't buy it. My wife is well beyond ovulating and the associated hormones, but I still stay far away from her when she shops. Me? I just go to what I need, pick it up and pay for it. My wife, on the other hand will hold a can of beans in her hand for fifteen minutes before placing it in the shopping cart (or not).

There's gotta be more to the shopping thing than hormones. Perhaps deep down inside (well, make that just a little bit under the skin) she hates me and wants to torture me every minute we're together.
Makes sense, birds and fish build nests to attract the best specimens for breeding. Subliminally, hormones tell women her time is near. Men are told by their hormones that the time is always near when they're near women.
(R)ated for reason!
Nikki: I'm with you on the post-menopausal side of the aisle. I hate to shop but don't think it's due to ovulation as even as an ovulator I wasn't a shopper. I'm a cheapster. But I agree we should not be ignored by the garment district. My girlfriends and 92 year old mom can purchase up a storm and face it we have the $$$ the youngsters don't have.
"A majority of the women chose sexier products than another group of ovulating women who had viewed photographs of plain women or of attractive women who lived more than 1,000 miles away from them"
havent read study but think you might have typo here based on basic structure of control vs test group. do you mean:
"A majority of the women chose sexier products than another group of NON ovulating women who had viewed photographs of plain women or of attractive women who lived more than 1,000 miles away from them"
this ties in very nicely with recent research that showed that strippers that are ovulating make more money. its not known yet the mechanism, if this related to clothes, body language, broadcast pheremones.
it would seem that we as humans are rather in the dark about our basic motivations that control us. isnt it strange that here in the early part of the 21st century we are just now figuring out why women spend a lot on fashionable clothes.

possibly our brains are wired that way-- to make unconscious decisions and then deceive us into thinking they were rationally based. there is a lot of scientific research that now supports this in psychology etc. consider malcom gladwells bestselling book "blink". ... also I would say that the public is still generally poorly informed on evolutionary psychology and tends to push back on it anyway.
Interesting post, but I think the study is more marketing flapdoodle!

Often this stuff doesn't pan out after critical analysis.

I'm with Zachary Taylor - everything he said.

vzn commented that the public only poorly understands evolutionary psychology - I say that too many evolutionary psychologists only poorly understand evolution (and history, too).
I kind of blame that Sex and the City show for our Neo-Guilded Age. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, but I think it encouraged us to spend money we didn't have and to go into debt with the message that it was okay.
Great Post!
Happy Blogging,
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