The Consumer Is the Queen

A  BCG report finds that women control almost two-thirds of the global consumer spending.  Marketers  must keep  that  in  mind  while  chalking  out  their  strategies as  the  needs of women differ substantially from those of men. Researchers say women behave like foragers and men act like hunters. Even when they shop. While that fundamental truth hasn’t changed what has is the kind of control she exercises over the family purse-strings.  A  recent  study  by the  Boston Consulting  Group  (BCG)  finds  that women  control  almost two-thirds  of  the  global  consumer  spending.  It talks about a revolution that is taking place today unnoticed by most. “It is a revolution of by and for women — driven by a desire for more: For ongoing education, better  ways to  nurture  themselves and  their  families,  increased success  as  executives  and entrepreneurs higher earnings and for better ways to manage and leverage their accumulated wealth” says the study. And from what BCG concludes the average Indian woman is falling in line with her global counterparts.

Women In India

Marketers  must  keep  that  in  mind  while  chalking  out  their  strategies  as  the  needs  of  women  differ substantially from  those of men, avers Abheek Singhi, partner & director, BCG. That is because women today are more conscious of the products they buy and the need of their family members. Singhi says the average Indian housewife, who is middle-class but asp rational, wants the best for her children. She might  shop  at  the  local  grocer,  who  gives  her  credit  and  the  occasional  discount,  and  buy  mostly unbranded products, but she keeps part of  the  budget  aside for the higher quality, expensive products as she is more quality-conscious today. Women in India constantly face the challenge of having too much to do and too little time for it all-they rue the lack of ‘me time’ and that is the result of the cultural DN of most Asian countries where women are largely responsible for the domestic chores and taking care of the children ” says Singhi. The study also draws a ‘happiness curve’ for women which shows how the happiness  levels keep heading down  from  their  teenage  years  and  continues  till  the  time  the  middle  age  is over.  A major cause of dissatisfaction and stress is, of course, the lack of time and too much work.

But why are these results important for marketers? Because, of the $18 trillion global consumption two years back, $12 trillion was controlled by women. That is two-thirds of the total consumption on an average.  While in developed countries the percentage is over 70, in developing countries the figure is slightly less. According to the study, the global women economy is much larger than the total consumer spending in India and China put together. Overall, it is safe to conclude that women have the last word in spending decisions pertaining to most of the product categories. So it makes sense for marketers to keep the ladies happy to stay in the family’s consideration set.

Sob Story

Women are dissatisfied with many product categories, the study reveals. The worst  10  categories are investment,  cars,  banking,  life  insurance,  physicians,  car  insurance,  work  clothes,  hospitals,  personal computers and lodging. There are many mistakes, according to Singhi, that men make while marketing to women.  Ignoring  the  emotional  appeal,  cutting  prices  mindlessly,  overlooking  the  need  for  time-saving  solutions  and dressing  up  every  product in pink  are  some  of  the tactics  that  fail  to  impress. Of course, there  are  brands like  Dove  that  seem  to  truly understand  women  and  are  able  to  establish  a connect with them. The BCG also does a detailed comparison of the needs of women in some Asian countries to point at the similarities and differences. It says while the  challenges faced by women of India,  China and Japan are somewhat  similar,  the  weight-age  each  group  places on  the challenge  areas  tend  to differ by  country. The aspirations seem to match somewhat; financial stability and having free time score everywhere.

Interestingly, Asian  women  appear  more  optimistic  than  their  Western  counterparts,  but  control  a smaller proportion of the household spends (figures). Where women from India, China and Japan differ is the product categories they feel need more customization.  The top priorities for Indian women are lingerie, home- cleaning services and kids’ clothing.  For Chinese women, it is hair products, hair care services and skin care products.  For Japanese women, it is hospitals, car rental and physicians.  Indian women  are  willing  to  trade  up  for  food,  dairy  products  and  household  cleaners. Chinese women can trade  up for  cosmetics  and  personal care  products;  their  Japanese  counterparts for  travel,  home  and organic food. The responses of these women to different product categories can offer clear guidelines for marketers about the products that need to be improved upon. “Women worldwide represent the largest pool of growth ever. There is a vast business opportunity to fill the gap between the time at their disposal and the degree of customization in the products/services they need” adds Yeonhee Kim senior partner & managing director BCG Korea. The statement by Kim sums up the challenge for today’s marketers.

Here one needs to also take count of the expectations of women from different categories of products they buy. Anand Ramanathan, associate director, KPMG Advisory Services says that depends on where she is coming from. He classifies women consumers into two categories-professionals and homemakers. “Homemakers are asp rational efficient and are smart buyers. They have a functional and an emotional connects with a particular brand. They do a survey regarding the attributes, benefits and repercussions of a particular brand before buying” he says adding “the professional woman rely heavily on time-saving products like ready-to-eat food category.” Attracting women is no cakewalk though.

Three factors play an important role, according to Ramanathan:  price, packaging and product positioning-three of the proverbial 4Ps of marketing. “The product should give immediate value; it should seem worthy enough to buy. The packaging is important because women are more aesthetically-oriented than men” he says. Talking about positioning at the point-of-sale Ramanathan says “marketer should be smart enough to place the product according to the needs of a customer. For example ‘Puja’ items and fruits are mostly placed together that makes shopping convenient for a customer.”

That is largely because the way men and women shop is different. “For men shopping is about finishing the process; women want to prolong the experience” says Kishore Chakraborti vice -president, consumer insight and HFD McCann Erickson India. “Her consumption pattern is holistic. What I mean is that a woman thinks about her family at the time of buying and buys not just for herself” observes Chakraborti. Products that  offer many benefits that save on  time, and offer  the maximum value  for  money are the ones  that  succeed  in  attracting  women  shoppers.  Chakraborti feels marketers should continue to innovate and look for new ways to connect with women. He gives the example of Horlicks, which felt it was necessary to launch a variant especially for women.  Apart  from  expanding  the  brand  franchise  it also  helped  by  getting  the  family  more  favorably  disposed  towards  the  brand.  The ads for Women’s Horlicks struck an emotional connect with women because it touched upon the fact that women work really hard and therefore need more nourishment. The other example Chakraborti cites is that of Kellogg’s Special K. “The whole idea here is that women don’t just want to stay fit they want to look good as well. So Kellogg’s Special K offers both nourishment and helps in weight loss. The thing to remember here is that when the mother starts consuming a brand, the entire portfolio can find a place in that household” points out Chakraborti. While many of the study’s findings do not come as a surprise to companies the hard data may help them focus better  on  some of the problems cited  by  women  and help  them step  up and  deliver  more sophisticated products and segmented service.

By Manas Patra,  IBS Bangalore (Class of 2000). Manas is based in Shanghai, China. You can reach out to him at

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