Do men actually buy anything?

Well, of course they do – but we know what they tend to be buying: Tech, cars, gadgets, TVs, home-cinemas and the like. But do they actually buy anything from our shops, in the cultural sector?

This, it seems to me, is a very good question. Most buyers in the cultural and heritage sector work on the premise that their core customer is a middle-aged, middle class woman – and with good reason – they are. The most recent data backs this up. 41% of all museum visitors in the UK are over 55. 58% of all visitors are female. This is even more pronounced in art galleries where the female to male ratio of visitors is heading towards 70/30! The only venues that attract more men than women are institutions based on science or the military.

But even these figures underplay what is really going on in our shops, and this is down to the differing shopping behaviours of men and women. Beyond the few examples cited above, a recent survey in the United States claims that women are responsible for a staggering 85% of all consumer purchases and influence 95% of all purchasing decisions. One reason for this is tenacity. It does not necessarily mean that women enjoy shopping more than men, but they keep at it.

To quote from the study:

Men would rather buy a workable product than continue to shop, while women would rather continue to shop in the hope of finding a perfect solution

Not surprising then, that most of the products in our shops are aimed at this shopper. My very quick tour of my local museum gift-shops suggested a ratio of about ten to one in favour of female products. Some examples; for every tie on offer there could well be ten plus ladies scarves; for every wallet at least half a dozen purses and let’s not even look at jewellery – vast ranges with nothing for men at all barring the odd pair of cufflinks. Homeware items are all aimed at the female customer, as are, I would argue, the vast majority of greetings cards, note cards, art prints and Christmas decorations. Add on to this, scented candles, diffusers, beauty, skin care, fragrances and textiles. Just about the only category not biased to the female market are books – but even here the sales data tells us that the book market is 60% female, in fact 80% female if we just look at fiction.

And my final dispiriting fact is the following: even if you do have healthy sales of ties, or cufflinks, or men’s grooming – 90% of those products are being bought by women for the men in their lives. OK, that last claim is not based on data but on my own experience, observation and discussion with my peers – but we know it’s true!

What is to be done? Does it matter? Well it certainly matters to me. I have recently become the Head of Trading at the Freemason’s Hall. I am in charge of a shop where 95% of our sales are made up of Freemasonry regalia and therefore nearly all our customers are male! (There are many female Masons too, but as we currently only sell their basic kit, they are vastly outnumbered by the men). Regalia, for those of you not familiar with Freemasonry (which included me prior to this role) is made up of aprons, collars, jewels, gloves and gauntlets. We also sell a large number of cufflinks, ties and rings to our members. These are bought by men, for themselves. A fact which, given everything I have said so far, is pretty interesting. And about to get more so.

We are in the planning stages of our new, larger shop. This will sell an expanded range of regalia (catering more fully for the female Masons) and a vastly increased range of souvenirs and gifts reflecting our visitor’s experience of our amazing art-deco building and the Museum of Freemasonry. This is a desperately needed development, because as well as the thousands of Masons that come through our doors every year we also welcome 70,000 general visitors. At the moment the gifts and souvenirs on offer to this sector of our audience is very poor. So, we hope that by bringing in more ranges that reflect and expand on our visitor’s experience we can increase our sales and our overall visitor satisfaction. So far so normal. But, can we tempt our overwhelmingly male customer base to buy items other than the regalia necessary for their membership? They are already spending money, how difficult can it be to get them to buy something else, not essential but related to Freemasonry? Will we be one of the few cultural venues where men seriously outspend women? Frankly, I don’t know but we are about to find out.

Watch this space…

Perry Bushell
By Perry Bushell
Perry Bushell is Head of Trading at the Museum of Freemasonry. He was previously Head of Retail and Catering at the National Portrait Gallery, and Head of Central Operations for Waterstones.
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2 Replies to “Can I help you, Sir?”

  1. Congratulations on the new job Perry and what an interesting situation you find yourself in. I will be watching this space although I might have quite a wait for the next instalment.

  2. I fear so. We are completely shut down, including our on-line business as based in the centre of London we cannot expect staff to go in to process orders. So far the new shop is on track – but when we will be allowed back in to actually build it is anyone’s guess.

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