Women changing the marketplace

women consumers have the powerIn American households, women serve as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief purchasing officer and, increasingly, chief influencer.

And when they head into the marketplace to make buying decisions, they don’t leave any of those hats behind, according to a new report, “Game Changers: Women Defining the New American Marketplace.”

The report details the results of the “Women, Power & Money” study launched by global public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard in 2008 and repeated several times since then. The latest survey, “Wave Four,” was done in conjunction with Hearst Magazines and was conducted in September 2011 by Ipsos Mendelsohn.

Women remain primary decision-makers in their households—although they share that responsibility as the ticket price of items climbs. It’s a role they relish—and one that’s only grown in importance since the studies began in 2008.

“Her leadership style is collaborative,” the latest report says. “She readily shares decision-making responsibility and the credit that goes along with it. But her leadership style is also evolving and is now less about ‘doing it all herself’ and more about ‘leading the team.’ ”

When making purchasing decisions, the overall economy remains a concern for women, and their choices typically are utilitarian and practical. In most products, they seek value, quality, performance and substance over style.

Perhaps the most significant change in how a woman functions in the American marketplace is in her increasing role as “influencer.”

“Her social circles have expanded, beginning with social networking sites, and extending to a broader perspective that highly values gathering and disseminating information,” study authors say. “…She is a consumer, broadcaster and amplifier of ideas in the marketplace. Expect these recommendation and word-of-mouth dynamics to continue intensifying.”

Looking at the survey results in more detail:

Stressed but empowered
The aftermath of the recession and slow economic recovery have raised stress levels among American women. In 2008, 19% of women described themselves as stressed. In 2011, that number had nearly doubled to 33%.women shoppers do it all

As the study says, “Economic stress remains both top-of-mind and deeply felt.”

  • 75% of survey respondents agree, “I shop differently now than I did before the recession.”
  • 71% agree, “Life is more complex today than it was before the recession.”
  • 58% agree, “Financially, I am worse off now than I was before the recession started.”

Despite those worries, women generally feel empowered. When asked to describe themselves, the 12 adjectives women most often chose were decidedly positive—caring (76%), friendly (76%), kind (73%), family-focused (72%), thoughtful (72%), helpful (71%), intelligent (63%), smart (61%), knowledgeable (57%), generous (57%), independent (56%) and happy (55%). Notably, in the new survey, women were more likely to describe themselves as ambitious (50% in 2011; 37% in 2008) and decisive (43% in 2011; 38% in 2008).

Leading the team
According to the report, the woman remains the agenda-setter in most American households, keeping both the big picture and the day-to-day details in mind.

“But her leadership style is less about ‘doing it all herself’ and being Ms. Independence. Instead, it is a more collaborative and thoughtful approach, one in which she leads the team (at home and away) in developing and executing the agenda,” study authors say. “She readily shares both the decision-making responsibility and the credit that goes along with it.”

According to the study:

  • Two-thirds of married women say decision-making is shared in their household.
  • For purchases of small-ticket items, women’s influence is great. Nearly 90% of women agree, “I am the one most responsible for purchasing household goods and services.”
  • For purchases more than $500, roughly 85% of women say the buying decision should be join.

“Women who are the primary decision-makers do find the job more stressful and tiring, perhaps because they typically bring more thoughtful and nuanced approaches to the job,” the study says. “Women who are primary decision-makers cite a host of reasons for holding the job, from greater enjoyment of the process to simply doing it better.”

Expanding her influence
Both face to face with friends, colleagues and family and through social media channels, today’s American woman receives, processes and disseminates an enormous amount of information about products.

“Simply put, she is becoming an even more important influencer in the marketplace,” the survey says.

Half of women say, “I regularly influence friends and family to buy or not buy a particular product or service.”

That’s up from just 31% in the 2008 survey. It’s a role they take seriously. Some 54% agree, “I feel it is my responsibility to help friends and family make smart purchase decisions.” And 71% agree, “Today, I feel confident in my being a trusted source of information to others.”

American women listen to others, as well. Some 79% agree, “Having someone I know and trust make a purchase recommendation for me is a great comfort.” Another 76% agree, “I have purchased or not purchased a particular product or brand because of something a friend or family member told me” and 68% agree, “If a friend or family member recommends a product, I am likely to try it.”

Social networking is important to American women, with 73% saying they use Facebook and 65% reporting that they are a friend/fan of a company, brand or product on Facebook, according to the report. A significant number also use LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and other services.

“There’s no denying the impact of online social networks, but it is important to put their impact into context. Her online social networking represents only a portion of what she does online, and of course, what she does online is only a portion of her life,” survey authors say. “…In-person communications—in social gatherings, at work, in retail contexts—remain by far the most widely used methods for communication and influence.”

As evidence, 52% of women said they had provided information or a recommendation in-person at a social gathering in the previous six months and 39% had done so in-person at work. By contrast, only 15% had shared information using a social networking site and only 6% has posted an online review or blog in the previous six months.

Pragmatic & practical
When it comes to purchasing decisions, today’s American woman is decidedly pragmatic.

“In general, her purchase criteria are substantive, practical and value-oriented,” study authors say.

When asked to list the brands they admire in a variety of categories, respondents chose solid, reputable brands over those that are trendier or offer more luxury. Among the most cited brands of automobiles were Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda. Old Navy, Kohl’s and Macy’s topped the list when asked about apparel. In other categories, respondents cited Tylenol, Kraft and General Mills.

“Her practical marketplace approach also underscores why she admires particular brands. Across virtually every category, ‘good’ and ‘quality’ are the terms she uses most, with price typically close behind,” the report says. “But good quality at a good price (in other words, value) is generally her top consideration.”

Changing the game
Though the study finds broad similarities among segments of women, particularly in the role as influencers, report authors caution against looking for a one-size-fits-all solution to reaching female consumers. It’s incumbent upon manufacturers and retailers to know their own customers and to target product features, product selection, pricing, merchandising and advertising to them.

But there is no doubt that, in the final analysis, women continue to change the dynamics of the American marketplace.

“She calls the shots and makes the decisions. Her leadership is expanding, not diminishing,” the study concludes. “Any marketer or advertiser who continues to pretend otherwise does so at their own peril.”

woman shopping for furnitureHow women shop for home furnishings
The “Wave Four of Women, Power & Money” study looked at how women gather information and make decisions about a variety of product categories. The following reflects their answers when asked about their habits and preferences regarding shopping for home furnishings and decor.

Top information resources for women
Friends, extended family and colleagues 60%
Spouse or partner 58%
In-store information or retail sales associate 57%
Brochures and catalogs 57%
Internet 50%

Information women use to make decisions
Price 68%
Quality of craftsmanship 59%
Quality of materials 46%
Warranties and guarantees 26%
Ratings/reviews from actual owners and users 16%

Figures are the percentage of women selecting each option.

Why women are the deciders
Women cite a number of reasons why they take on the role of primary decision-maker:

  • To save money
  • Their partner doesn’t want to do it
  • They make better decisions
  • Nobody else will do it
  • They have more available time
  • They enjoy being in control
  • They save time
  • They care more
  • Their spouse or partner made poor decisions in the past

Helping her decide
The top 10 types of information women say companies could provide to help them make the best purchasing decisions:

  1. Price 74%
  2. Quality of materials 38%
  3. Ratings/reviews from actual owners and users 33%
  4. Quality of craftsmanship 29%
  5. Warranties and guarantees 24%
  6. Quality of service 22%
  7. Elements of design and style 20%
  8. Ratings/reviews from experts 19%
  9. Direct comparisons to competitor’s choices 18%
  10. The brand or company’s heritage 16%


  • Be substantive. Since the economy crashed, women have taken a practical, utilitarian approach to their purchases. According to the “Wave Four of Women, Power & Money” study, they favor “substance over sizzle” and prefer “a solid ‘good’ choice over a more expensive ‘great’ choice.” Reaching female consumers “requires communicating quality and value and building brands that authentically deliver on these core dimensions,” study authors say.
  • Realize the power of recommendations. A key finding of the study is that women are increasingly “influencers”—providing product recommendations and acting on those from other women. “Certainly online social networks play a role, but are only a piece of the puzzle. The more fundamental change has been the growing role of word-of-mouth to women’s mindsets and lifestyles, both online and offline,” the report says.
  • Get specific. “Marketers must understand specific segments of women and the needs of those targets on a category-specific basis,” the study says. “Everything from preferred information sources to preferred decision-making styles differ by segment and by category. ‘One size fits all’ is an illusion, in clothing and in life. Women realize this; marketers must, as well. There is no single way to talk to women.” (Read more about women’s thoughts on purchasing home furnishings on Page 24.)
  • Stop pretending. Women may graciously say that household decision-making is shared, but, in most cases they are the ones initiating the product research and buying process—and their preferences influence final decisions.
  • Look out for her needs. Women make purchasing decisions based on information and collaboration, considering everything from price and value to expert and consumer reviews to spousal and family preferences. They often put their own needs last. If, as a manufacturer, you put their needs first, you’ll be one of the few who do.
  • Give credit where credit is due. Manufacturers should acknowledge not only a woman’s leadership in decision-making but also her superiority in the role. “It’s not just a job she has taken on because of a lack of other volunteers. She relishes the role. She does it better than men. And her widening spheres of impact are making her leadership felt more widely than ever before,” study authors say.
  • Get used to it. “Her leadership is intensifying, not diminishing,” the report says. “Her circle of influence is growing, not shrinking. …Don’t expect a sudden turnaround in gender relationships or marketplace dynamics when an economic upswing occurs.”

About the survey
In September 2008, global public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard launched “Women, Power & Money” with the goal of creating the definitive study of women in America. The survey found that women had taken control of the American household in terms of decision-making. “Wave Two of Women, Power & Money” was conducted in November 2009 and focused on how women’s lives changed in the wake of the economic crisis and election of President Barack Obama. In January 2010, “Wave Three of Women, Power & Money” found American women showing grace under economic pressure and even thriving despite adversity.

In 2011, Fleishman-Hillard partnered with Hearst Magazines for “Wave Four of Women, Power & Money.” The online survey was conducted by Ipsos Mendelsohn Sept. 8-15, 2011, among 1,270 women in the United States age 25 to 69 with an annual household income of $25,000 or more. For comparison purposes, 263 men were surveyed, as well.

Full details of the survey, including in-depth profiles of high-income women, Hispanic women, word-of-mouth leaders and other segments, are available. For more information, contact:

Nancy Bauer
Deputy general manager/senior partner
[email protected]

Marlene Greenfield
Vice president/executive
director of research
Hearst Magazines
[email protected]

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