4 Things Retail Stores Can Do to Make Men Shop More

Some serious (and not-so-serious) suggestions on how stores can get dudes out of their chairs and into their doors.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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I have always hated shopping. Normally, I don't go in for the "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" stereotypes, but when it comes to retail, I live up to the cliché. Going into stores that don't have the word "grocery," "drug," or "hardware" tacked in front of them is something I try not to do more than three times a year. If I do have to shop, I want the experience to be as simple and painless as possible. According to academic research, many guys feel the same way. The rise of online shopping has been a godsend, and with each passing year, we add to the growing list of items we thankfully don't have to buy in-person anymore. 

Though millions of Americans of all genders are deserting malls in droves, retailers are determined to go down swinging. Amazon continues to gobble up a larger and larger percentage of sales, yet you don't see shopping centers shuttering en masse. Even stores that never seemed to have the right to exist in the first place, like Spencer's Gifts and Sunglass Hut, manage to eke out an existence on the retail margins, fighting for the scraps of analog commerce.

When I drive by massive shopping complexes, I ask myself: "Why the fuck would I ever go in there?" Usually, the answer is: I wouldn't. The next question, then, is what could make me want to go in there? What kind of experience could overcome the joyous convenience of ordering shit in my underwear after I've polished off half a bottle of whiskey? A store would have to be pretty impressive to accomplish that. There are few scenarios where I can imagine retailers luring me out of my recliner and into the world. Here are some ideas that could work. 

Give us stuff to play with.

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Make us feel like we're not supposed to be there.

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Employ people who actually know about products.

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Sell less, but stock well.

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Here's  a strategy that appeals particularly to the male psyche: Sell less shit. Even those who are content to spend hours shopping for clothes probably don't have much patience for wandering the endless aisles of Home Depot looking for that one particular type of screw. Few men have the stamina for wandering through the maze of IKEA when they already figured out which Höödersmergen they wanted two displays ago. Savvy retailers understand this and have responded by trimming their inventory, or to put it in business speak: sticking to their core competency.

This line of thinking is actually backed up with research. A 2007 study conducted at Wharton concluded, "For men, shopping is a mission. They are out to buy a targeted item and flee the store as quickly as possible." Former MasterCard exec. Steve Faktor echoed this in his analysis of men's shopping habits for Forbes. He wrote, "[Men] must navigate a labyrinth, forced to make hundreds of decisions about something they only marginally care about."

Men want a streamlined shopping experience, and recent retail successes bear this out. Uniqlo has spread across the U.S. like wildfire in the last few years. When they opened their flagship New York location, I heard that same refrain over and over again: "Yeah dude, they have a wall of cheap jeans." Though the Apple Store has dozens of accessories lining the perimeter of their stores, there are only about a half a dozen products featured on the floor at a given time. Part of the West Coast love for In-N-Out Burger is that while their competitors jam as many items on the menu has possible, In-N-Out keeps it to just a few items on the menu:

McDonald's has seen the lack of writing on the wall and moved to declutter their menus.

In a world where you can buy anything with a push of the button, stores have two choices. Either you can be a one-stop shop, or you can be a niche retailer, focusing only on what you do best. If you offer a niche service, the thinking goes, customers don't just go there for the product, but for expertise and insight on the product. The rise of boutique stores selling everything from artisanal men's grooming products to hand-sewn backpacks comes from this desire for expertise. If you can't compete in terms of price, compete with knowledge.

After repeated insistence from Business Insider, Forbes, WSJ,  and all the rest, we accept that retail today is about the experience and not the product. But, just as for years, stores have been selling shitty products, they also come up with shitty experiences. The experiences men want fall into two categories: easy and entertaining. We want to be distracted from the fact that we had to get in our goddamn cars to go to the goddamn store and buy this goddamn thing that for some goddamn reason we couldn't just buy online. In short: When we do have to shop, the absolute last thing we want is to feel like we're shopping.

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