Women's Hidden Holiday-Shopping Secrets Revealed

Will This Year's Bargains and Blowouts Be Enough to Win Them Over?

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Mary Lou Quinlan
Mary Lou Quinlan
In past years, predicting post-Thanksgiving holiday-shopping results seemed like a game of rock, paper, scissors. But guessing the outcome of Christmas sales in this recession is a high-stakes game. Retailers are desperate for a profitable Black Friday. Of course, they remain at the mercy of those whose wallets matter most: women, the power shoppers who always make or break the holiday.

Walmart, which publicly anticipates a tough season, is ready with hot toys and blockbuster bestsellers below 10 bucks behind doors that will stay open 24/7 to lure shoppers. Even smarter is Walmart's in-store strategy of promising lots of lanes open for speedy checkout.

But will the bargains and blowouts be enough to get women's dollars? My new book, "What She's Not Telling You: Why Women Hide the Whole Truth and What Marketers Can Do About It," written with Jen Drexler and Tracy Chapman, partners in marketing consultancy Just Ask a Woman, discloses the difference between women's "half truths" (what they admit) and "whole truths" (what they really believe, do and buy). Half truths aren't lies, of course. But they are half the story.

To detect women's hidden holiday-shopping secrets, we fielded a survey of 2,000 women to expose some half truths of Christmas 2009. Here's what we found.

1. Half truth: Retailers fuel the hype, which encouraged some women to pledge, "I'll do most of my shopping on Black Friday."
Whole truth:
Forty-nine percent acknowledged they've been worried all year long, so they've already filled their carts. Unlike in seasons past where only the most organized women could brag that they'd bought everything by the Fourth of July, women volunteered that they've been grazing sales all along, given that the recession was a year-long reality. So while Black Friday marketers double down on markdowns and promotional balloons, women's stealthy pre-buying may leak some of the air out of their volume.

2. Half truth: Sixty-one percent of women agreed that "holidays are the one time of year to stick with gift giving, even in this economy."
Whole truth: Eighty percent admitted, "I'm cutting back this year." Women will protest that traditions matter, but the truth is, they are even more conservative than men and more scared of a pink-slip surprise in the family stocking. In fact, they've whittled their lists, and while kids will still make out, approximately 37% say that their spouse and their families are likely to get a kiss instead of a present.

3. Half truth: Women will say, "I like to buy gifts that show I really care."
Whole truth:
Women must be feeling that love's cheap in 2009. Among women with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000, 29% say they won't buy any full-priced merchandise. And honestly, we think they are underestimating their discount behavior. On top of that, 34% of that group said that they will use only cash, which will further drive spending down. If retailers think that women are over their deep-discounting addiction, they should think again.

4. Half truth: Eighty-one percent brag, "I like to choose thoughtful gifts."
Whole truth:
She's way into gift cards. Certainly, gift cards are thoughtful if they're for the right store. More than one in four women say they plan to give them, continuing a trend of convenience that saves her from returns. But gift-card sellers beware: Women burned by cards that can carry hidden charges will be a little more cautious than before.

5. Half truth: "I'm tired of saving and cost-cutting, so I'm going to splurge a little this holiday season."
Whole truth:
Even though 91% of women disagreed with this statement, we agree with NPD analyst Marshal Cohen, who's betting on frugal fatigue, that the temptation of a teeny bit of self-gifting is too strong to resist. After a year of denial and an avalanche of friends-and-family offers, women will find a way to treat themselves along the way, even if it's under the guise of choosing their own presents so their families won't screw up.

So, what to expect? One woman summed up her strategy as "procrastinate, panic and power shop." Another who's a little more methodical shared her mantra: "Shop early, wisely, repeat." So, fling open those mall doors, rev up the registers and get ready. Women won't be total Scrooges, but this will be a bumpy sleigh ride with them at the reins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Lou Quinlan is the CEO of New York-based women's marketing consultancy Just Ask a Woman and the author of the new book "What She's Not Telling You: Why Women Hide the Whole Truth and What Marketers Can Do About It," with partners Jen Drexler and Tracy Chapman (Greenleaf Books). They regularly update women's Half Truths in the marketplace at justaskawoman.com/wsnty.
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