Holiday Shopping: Men Outnumber, Outspend Women

PHOTO: Shoppers move through a Best Buy store on Black Friday, Naples, Florida, Nov. 25, 2011.
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More men than women went shopping on Black Friday weekend, and men outspent women. No guy pepper-sprayed anyone, but apart from that, the sexes behaved pretty much alike --with a few crucial differences, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation.

According to the NRF survey, men and women shopped at different hours, preferred different types of stores and favored different categories of goods. Ellen Davis, vice president of the NRF, thinks the unusually high male turnout can be attributed in part to the fact more stores had midnight openings this year. Men, she says, are not as willing as women to pull themselves out of bed at the crack of dawn to go snap up bargains. They are, however, willing to shop late.

Between Thursday and Sunday, Americans spent an estimated $52.4 million, according to the NRF. That's slightly more than last year, with 35 percent of that total being spent online. A record 226 million people shopped, compared with 212 million last year. Per person, men spent an average $484 to women's $317. Online, the average man spent $200--twice as much as the average woman.

Stephen Hoch, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, says that while it's true that more men shopped than women, the difference is small. Asked by the NRF if they had shopped or would shop during the holiday weekend, 56.8 percent of males said yes, compared with 55.2 percent of women.

"You've got two things going on here," says Hoch. "Men spend more online, and that tends to be on more expensive stuff like electronics. Traditionally, consumer electronics is more of a male product. Women get allocated the duty of picking up stuff for the kids."

Kathy Grannis, an NRF spokesperson, says many stores had special deals on Blu-Ray disc players, HD TV's and computer gadgets, all of which "attract male shoppers." Men's purchases of electronics, she says, "were likely self-gifts, not things they're intending to put under some else's tree."

According to the NRF's survey, 47 percent of men said they bought or would be buying consumer electronics, compared with 32 percent of women. But for some electronic products, women outnumbered men.

Women, says Steve Kidera, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association, bought more digital cameras and more digital photo frames. They outnumbered men in buying MP3 players, smartphones and eReaders. Perhaps not surprisingly, they swamped men (14 percent vs 9 percent) in buying GPS devices--a fact that amuses Kidera, who views as confirmation of the old saw that men hate to ask directions, even from electonic devices.

What other kinds of products were big-sellers? According to the NRF, the best-selling categories were (in descending order): Clothing or clothing accessories; toys; books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games; and consumer electronics or computer-related accessories.

Amazon.com said its best-selling Black Friday product was the Kindle Fire. Men shopping on Amazon scarfed up leather bomber jackets and jeans, tool-sets, and scary-looking utility knives. The video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" by Activision was a top seller.

The American Booksellers Association says its member bookshops reported strong sales to women of Nora Ephron's "I Feel Bad About my Neck: And other Thoughts on Being A woman." President Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" continued to sell well, but so did author Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl."

Professor Hoch says sex differences between shoppers are decreasing as more young people enter the market. "We did some studies," he says. "In shoppers over 40, men view shopping as a job; they're on a mission; women tend to be more engaged in the social aspects. But younger men and women are much more similar to one another."

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