Why Women Shop

Posted by Jill Chivers in Helpful Books and Resources

Why Women Shop by Stella Minahan and Michael Beverland is a generous book.  Stella and Michael work for Universities (Stella at Deakin and Michael at Melbourne) and their collaboration is a research-based expose on the motivations behind women’s shopping activities.

Having read a few books coming out of acadaemia, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book.  Some books by academics are very dense, requiring a dictionary and the willingness to re-read many sentences to fully grasp what’s being said.  It’s slow going with those books.  I call them “sit up” books, because you have to be a fully upright position to read them properly.

Others I’ve read are more accessible, like this one.  Why Women Shop is very readable.

It’s also been written with two clear audiences in mind, and two quite different audiences at that.  The first is those working in the retailing/merchandising industry – the book gives them the sweet and lowdown on what they’re doing that’s working and not working when dealing with female shoppers.  In this way, the book most resembles the findings of a research study – here’s what women told us about…. and so on. If I owned a shop on the high street, or any street actually, I’d be reading this book.

The other audience the book writes to is women who shop. That’s us!  Or, was us – those of us who have taken a 12 month amnesty from shopping (which if you want to join us, you can! Click here).

My favourite bit.  This book held a powerful insight for me.  Let me give you the briefest of backgrounds.

In chapter 2 of the book, Stella and Michael talk about how shopping has changed for women over the last hundred years or so, and how the creation of department stores was instrumental in doing that.

These department stores of olden days drew women in like flies to a spider web – they ‘seduced’ women. They were carefully constructed destinations, and one of the strategies they used to do this was to provide facilities that made shopping possible to be a day-long outing.

Who knew that?  That before loos were installed in department stores, a woman’s shopping outings were determined, at least in part, by how long she could go without, er, going.  As it were.  We take that kind of thing for granted now, but in its day, it was very forward thinking.

This whole seduction thing was something that Gordon Selfridge seemed to understand with uncanning accuracy- “shopping at Selfridges is a pleasure, a pastime, a creation, something more than merely shopping” (page 27).  A man of seering vision, one might say Mr Selfridge was.

As more and more of these seductive shopping destinations sprouted up, people began to talk.  This new phenomenon had people reflecting on the role department stores were playing in the lives of women – the people they had been specifically designed to attract.

Department stores were seen as vehicles of female emancipation by many – it gave them a place to be outside their homes and the attentions of men.  But not everyone was sure they were a Good Thing.  Others viewed department stores as destinations of derangement, harbingers of hysteria, factories of frenzy.

The view here was that women lost control and went a little troppo in these department stores. In their proper cultural and chronological context, no doubt those remarks made sense. Stella and Michael refer to these remarks as being a Freudian view of women’s responses to department stores.  And they’re not talking about the slips you find in the ladies lingerie department either.

And now we come to one of the things I so appreciated about Why Women Shop.

Stella and Michael present us with an alternate perspective about the role of shopping centres – the modern day equivalents of those derangement-inducing department stores.

They say (page 181): “a more sophisticated view sees women as needing a ‘third place’ away from work and home where they can learn, be entertained and be rewarded all without the normal pressures of every day life”.

I hadn’t thought of it that way before.  Whilst not exactly coming to think of shopping centres as the devil’s playground, my year without clothes shopping had landed me somewhere in the vicinity of thinking of shopping centres as soulless havens of one-eyed consumerism where the buyer had most certainly beware.  Not to be too (cough) judgemental about them.

So, this perspective helped me.  It softened my own perspective about the multiple roles that shopping centres can play in a woman’s life.  And how at certain times and in certain ways, shopping centres can be an important and healthy place for a woman to be.

I enjoyed Why Women Shop (and meeting Stella in cyber world – hello Stella!).


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