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Man In the Aisle, Woman in the Dealership: How Tesla, Grocers Court the Opposite Sex

A retail truism is that when it comes to most purchase decisions, women are behind the wheel. So it’s no small irony that just as Tesla Motors has taken this truth literally, supermarkets are, evidently, raining men.

More than 40% of men say they do all or nearly all the grocery shopping for their households, according to market research firm NPD Group. Further, men make as many monthly supermarket trips as women, according to “Food Shopping in America 2014,” a study from MSLGroup and The Hartman Group. The result of these “manfluencers” is a marketing bonanza, with male-focused products and displays lining the aisles of supermarkets.

While men are squeezing the produce, women are cruising on autopilot, test-driving the latest electric vehicles by Tesla Motors. The California manufacturer’s latest strategy involves plush locations at high-traffic shopping malls, which are still disproportionately visited by women. Tesla doesn’t expect many vehicles to sell at these locations; rather, it anticipates vehicles will later be ordered online based on the in-mall experience, according to AutoTrader.com.

Tesla_RetailSTore

These retail gender benders can easily be viewed as attempts to keep with the times, but both indicate that a deeper shift is behind these evolving shopping behaviors – and that is a redistribution of financial power. How retailers respond will be crucial to their success in the coming years.

The first step is to understand the dynamics behind these behavioral shifts. The Great Recession cost men 6 million jobs in 2007, but it took only 2.7 million from women, according to the Economic Policy Institute. As a result many men assumed the traditional household chores of women, such as shopping, while women continued to earn and in many cases further their careers. Today, 41% of women make financial decisions alone, according to a 2014 survey by Ameriprise Financial.

This is where the wrinkle enters: As the economy improved, more men returned to work – but they still continued to visit the grocer. Turns out many men found purpose in the aisles, said Phil Lempert, a supermarket consumer behavior expert and founder of SupermarketGuru.com.

“They’ve discovered that it’s a great way to bond with the family,” he said. “Being in the kitchen, preparing food, really gives men a lot more heart and soul.”

Being in a Tesla Model X, meanwhile, with its large trunk and kid-friendly “falcon wing” doors, gives lots of women racing hearts, because it too addresses family needs.

“I sat and watched the video of (Tesla CEO Elon) Musk unveiling the X in 2012, and I was sold,” one woman told the San Jose Mercury News in late 2014. “Usually if there’s good interior seating, there isn’t any cargo space. We need both.”

Musk, at the company’s annual meeting in June 2014, recognized the need to make his vehicles more appealing to women. “We’re certainly paying more attention to the needs of women in the Model X,” he said.

So Tesla is placing itself where women can be found while packaged foods makers place manly items where men are going. General Mills, for example, in 2014 introduced to its Helper line man-friendly flavors such as crunchy taco and three-cheese marinara. Many grocers began installing “man aisles” complete with large cuts of meat, charcoal and I assume bacon-flavored nacho cheese.

The trouble with this plan is many supermarkets and manufacturers have overlooked what is getting men back in the aisles in the first place – that sense of purpose and family. “This was the stupidest thing ever,” Lempert said of man aisles. “Needless to say it fizzled.”

To keep men in the aisles, grocers need to understand that while men and women are different, their household and family needs are not. Rather, the key difference between male and female shoppers is how they buy, not what they buy. They simply have different shopping skills.

Just as Tesla is creating showrooms that answer to women’s shuttle needs, Lempert suggests grocers cater to men’s skill needs. This can range from cooking classes to signage that covers very simple actions, such as reading product ingredients, finding expiration dates or estimating price values – all of which may be second nature to women but not to many men. The same goes for using grocery-store apps.   

All of these considerations will combine to form a better-tailored grocery trip. Shopper data will help supermarkets think about how to enhance and shape the customer experience, and segmented data from a loyalty program can further refine the insights, but none of this will of any use if the organization does not have the resources and strategic intent to execute on it.

Doing so takes understanding that all shoppers are driven by needs that transcend gender. That means debunking stereotypes, whether in the aisle or the driver’s seat.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.

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