How to Market to Women During the Economic Upheaval

Quick Changes to Strategies Are Needed as Moms Shift Priorities for Themselves and Families

By Published on .

Most Popular
Marti Barletta
Marti Barletta
While President-elect Barack Obama is assembling his cabinet in Washington, moms across America are changing the ways they stock their own cabinets. As they function simultaneously as secretaries of transportation, interior, homeland security and, most important these days, commerce, women faced with new economic realities are rapidly shifting their priorities and shopping behaviors. Here are six changes in where they stand on consumption.

  1. Price overshadows value.

  2. Since the dawn of consumer culture, it has been a marketing truism that consumers make their buying decisions based on value -- the ratio of quality to price -- rather than price alone. Now, however, there are clear signs in the marketplace that women are feeling forced to suspend this "best practice" as they protect their pocketbooks for possible rainy days ahead. For now, women are willing to trade off some quality -- and brand -- to get the best price. Today's woman knows that a gallon of juice is a better deal, but this week's paycheck stretches only to a half-gallon. Sure, she'd rather buy the whole suit at Nordstrom, especially since the sale is half off her second item; but this year, she'll have to hold the line at buying only the jacket at Target. That means marketers need to focus on keeping their price points down across the board instead of adding value or bundling to drive volume.

  3. Thrift counts more than convenience.

  4. For the past 10 years, I've been telling my speaking and consulting clients that, for women, time is the new money. No more. When times are tight, money is money again. With regret, time-starved women will recognize the need to forgo the labor-saving products and services that have made their lives a little easier and go back to doing the labor themselves for a while. Marketers should plan for shifts from do-it-for-me to do-it-yourself products in grocery (fewer bagged salads, single-serve fruits and veggies, store-bought cakes and brownies), home services (car washes, carpet shampoos, gutter cleaning) and ready-to-eat meals (delivered pizza, Boston Market, grocery deli).

  5. Sustainables trump disposables.

  6. Saving money will join up with saving the planet as women switch from disposables to reusables. We've already seen the collapse of the bottled-water market as women turn back to the tap for refills. They and their families are brown-bagging lunch (welcome back, Thermos and Tupperware!) and home-brewing and bringing their own coffee to work (see ya, Starbucks!). This is a terrific opportunity for products that have been seen as "green" to dial up their value by adding "thrift" to their messages.

  7. Essentials eclipse indulgences.

  8. Women have come to understand that a crucial element of taking care of others is taking care of their own needs. One way they've done that is to save a little something for themselves now and then -- an extra lipstick, a couple of celebrity magazines, a pint of Haagen-Dazs.
    Marti Barletta is a recognized thought leader on marketing to women and author of "PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds and Business of Boomer Big Spenders." She is also author of "Marketing to Women"; CEO of the TrendSight Group, a think tank that specializes in marketing to women; and a founding member of the Women Gurus Network.
    During the recession, we will see a moratorium on these small indulgences. Hardest hit likely will be inexpensive, impulse items, such as those above, and personal-care services -- the manicure, the health club, the monthly visit to the hair colorist. Smart marketers will step into the gap and offer women the "You're worth it" extras they can no longer afford to buy for themselves.

  9. Online shopping outshines in-store.

  10. Online ordering has exploded in the past two years as broadband has become ubiquitous and security and privacy concerns have eased. The recession will accelerate this, as women explore new ways to save money. Online shopping saves on gas, parking and baby-sitting, and the web opens the door to the world's biggest bargain basement. Women also can shop 24/7 and comb through 10 times the selection in half the time. Women who discover the online extras they can't get in-store -- such as peer ratings and reviews, save-for-later shopping carts, and instant wish lists -- will never go back.

  11. Economic outweighs experiential.

  12. Experiential shopping has been a huge trend of late. It stems from American shoppers' surfeit of stores to choose from and desire for "shoppertainment." For now, though, shopping will downshift into a more functional mode aimed at keeping the budget under control: more trip planning and list shopping, less impulse buying. "Lead me not into temptation" will be women's mantra as they stay away from retail stores they adore, such as Anthropologie and Pier 1. Leisure-experience marketers also will feel the pain as women move into "make our own fun" mode and shift social occasions inside the home. Look for attendance declines across the board -- at movie theaters, sports arenas, bowling alleys and amusement parks -- as women organize friends and family around Blockbuster, Netflix, Milton Bradley and microwave popcorn.
In this article: