The Female Consumer

The Future of The Female Consumer

In 2009 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) produced what still appears to be the standard work on the Female Economy.  BCG set out research findings that suggested that the female consumer was the most powerful on the planet and responsible for 70% of all consumer expenditure. The research was supported by a book called Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest-Growing Market and an article in the Harvard Business Review by the same authors (Silverstein and Sayre)

“Women now drive the world economy. Globally, they control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, and that figure could climb as high as $28 trillion in the next five years. In aggregate, women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined—more than twice as big, in fact” (HBR 2009).

Hewson think that Boston were right in principle but very little subsequent work has been done on the female consumer (or the female economy).  This suggests an astonishing deficit of real knowledge if one accepts that the woman consumer is the world economy driver.   We know that there is a huge and paradoxical under-representation of women in positions of power in both politics and commerce – only 3% of creative directors are women, 2% of Hollywood directors and only 4% of the Fortune 500 have women CEOs.   It is widely accepted that this is ‘wrong’ but does it play out wrong in the consumer arena?   Are products and services really not aligned with this key market?  Is retail out of touch with the women that are the dominant purchasers?

The findings from  Hewson Group research programme ‘Women Sex and Shopping’ (WSS) suggest that all is not well.  WSS is one of the very few research initiatives to look deeply at women’s behaviours and expectations in specific sectors.  WSS was started in 2008 and chose to look at issues close to the female psyche and where there was a significant revolution in both products and behavioural adoption  – an adoption driven largely by women themselves. The research has featured in many publications from the Wall St Journal and the Financial Times to Cosmopolitan.

 The fundamental conclusions from WSS are that the expectations of the consumer (in women’s emotional goods) are rarely matched by the market with a complete dysfunction in retail and entire (and valuable) sectors being virtually brand free.  What does come across very strongly is that the woman consumer is pragmatic and this means that they will ignore obstacles and buy what they need but do not necessarily get what they want or where they want it.  The issue of pragmatism is a key consideration because, in Hewson’s view, it masks deficiencies in the market and women have adapted to markets rather than markets adapting to women.  This may well have implications for sectors such as financial services, real estate, professional services and automotive.

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