What men want - in the supermarket

Like other men he sees shopping in supermarkets, Doug Fleener often doesn't grab a cart or hand basket when he hurries into the store for just a few items. Yet invariably, by the time he reaches the dairy section, his arms are full of impulse purchases. He needs a basket, but they're all at the front of the store. Why, he wonders, don't managers place them at the back as well?

"Supermarkets don't think like men," says Mr. Fleener, president of Dynamic Experiences Group, a retail consulting firm in Lexington, Mass., and a frequent shopper for his own family.

Supermarket managers of America, pull up a chair and lend an ear. Some of your regular customers - men - would like to have a word with you. As more of them, married and single, shop for food, they wish you would make your stores more "man-friendly."

Sixty-one percent of men now do at least some grocery shopping, according to new research by WSL Strategic Retail in New York. Two years ago that figure stood at 41 percent. Men are staying single longer, researchers note, and more two-career couples are sharing domestic responsibilities. Retired men are also shopping for food in greater numbers as the ranks of older consumers increase. More male supermarket shoppers are over 55 than under 35.

Yet supermarkets continue to see themselves as largely the domain of women. "Our core shopper is still a female," says Craig Mucklo, a spokesman for Safeway. "Most of the things we do cater to women." But he acknowledges that a lot of men are "buying more than just milk, butter, eggs."

Male behavior in supermarkets is "very different" from female behavior, says Phil Lempert, founder of supermarketguru.com. In some ways, the clichés about male shoppers are true: Men are much more likely to buy a product on impulse than women are. They're more likely to buy in bulk and to purchase items on sale. They also show less loyalty to a particular store.

Although only a quarter of men use grocery lists when they shop, compared with three-quarters of women, some keep mental tallies of what they do and don't like about supermarkets. In a random sampling of male supermarket shoppers around the country, opinions poured forth in impressive numbers.

Heading the list of annoyances for many is waiting in line to check out. More cashiers, please, they say.

To which store managers might respond, Step right up to our efficient self-service lane. But before managers get too enamored with technology, they should know that some men, even those who are technically savvy, still prefer to have a real person ring up their order.

Ryan Gerding of Kansas City, Mo., is among the many men who find self-service checkout systems "incredibly annoying," noting that the few he has used have rarely worked correctly. "They either require you to rescan items or to get some kind of override from a store employee."

Echoing that complaint, Chris Falk of Washington, D.C., adds, "I've waited for [another customer] to slowly go through screen after screen of produce items to locate the kiwis they want to purchase."

Some men also balk at discount cards that give sale prices to card holders. Tim Kaldahl of Omaha, Neb., who does the shopping and cooking for his family, avoids stores that use them.

Brian Galloway, a computer security manager in Dublin, Ohio, argues that the cards are a "tremendous frustration" because they levy a "privacy tax" on customers. "I believe the whole purpose of the savings card is to generate information the store can sell," says Mr. Galloway, who is single and shops once or twice a week. "Some of these cards want you to give your e-mail address and phone number." He pays with cash to preserve his anonymity.

Like women, many men love the thrill of looking at a receipt and seeing how much they've saved with coupons and specials. "I've never left the store without saving at least $25," says Paul Kidwell of Milton, Mass. He once saved $73 on a $160 order.

What else could make supermarkets more "man-friendly"?

• Better store directories. "Finding things is a challenge, and being a guy, I typically don't ask," says Mr. Galloway. "I just go find it."

"I can never find Velveeta cheese," says Mr. Gerding, who buys all the groceries for his family of four. "Is it in the dairy aisle? Is it in the snack-food aisle? It doesn't have to be refrigerated, so [it could be] anywhere."

• Customer-friendly layouts. "I don't like the marketing tactics of hiding the milk, eggs, and bread all the way in the back of the store so I have to tell my kids - ages 3, 5, 7, and 8 - 'no' a thousand times because they ask for everything they see," says Robert Smith of Rockford, Ill.

Tim O'Brien of Pittsburgh likes stores that group related products, such as placing condiments near the hot dogs. He appreciates wide aisles but "hates displays that crowd things and cause gridlock in the store."

• More single-serving packaging. "I tend to stay away from fresh fruits, vegetables, and perishables with shelf lives of less than a week, since these are often sold in quantities too large for a single person," says Jason Rhodes of Salisbury, Md. He likes items such as individual yogurt cups.

• Cooking classes for men. "Men love to cook and love to assemble," says Mr. Lempert, the self-styled supermarket guru. But "you're going to attract a different kind of man to a cooking class that's done by a cute female chef than one that's done by a man. If you really want to build a relationship between the store and that male shopper, it should be a man teaching them how to cook."

He also recommends giving men store tours and nutrition classes. Others suggest weekend seminars on grilling, and recipes for good, quick ways to prepare food.

Despite the requests for improvements - ideas many women would applaud as well - some men already enjoy shopping. Phil Hall of New York, who is single, finds zigzagging up and down the aisles "very relaxing."

Even the best stores can't eliminate all petty annoyances, such as parents who allow their children to run around. Both sexes must also contend with subtle gender wars, supermarket-style.

Creighton Abrams of New York gets annoyed when the "Food-Shopping Woman parks her cart in the middle of the aisle to look at a can of beans she won't buy and talks to every stranger." Women lob similar complaints right back. One woman who requests anonymity has seen men abandon their carts and wander off to a distant aisle.

Dan Collins of Baltimore sometimes shops after midnight to avoid "women and kids weaving their baskets at a snail's pace, clogging up the lanes." He doesn't want to deal with "Mrs. Johnson, who needs 45 minutes to decide whether she wants Del Monte or LeSueur peas."

Then there are the little domestic dramas involving male shoppers. Lempert says women often ask him, "What can I do to prevent my husband from buying stuff we will never need?" He suggests shopping together. "The partner who may have more knowledge can say, 'We've got five of those already,' or 'That costs too much,' or 'Honey, it's not new, your grandmother used that.' "

Finally, even the most attentive manager can't help male shoppers resolve another pesky little issue - the cellphone. As Mr. Falk explains, "It allows me to call home to confirm the grocery list, but it inevitably rings with an addition to the list after I've left the checkout."

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