Power of the Purse

Author Fara Warner Attests to the Wallop of Women’s
Wallets

by Starshine Roshell

power_purse.jpgAll she wanted was a decent running
shoe. In training for a marathon, journalist Fara Warner sprinted
into a Nike store with money to burn. But it turns out a female
consumer and a powerhouse retailer aren’t always a perfect fit.
Until six years ago, Warner explained, “Nike built all of their
running shoes off a man’s foot and simply made it smaller. Women’s
feet aren’t just smaller than men’s; they’re completely different.
They’re shaped differently; they perform differently.”

A business writer for The New York Times and Wall Street
Journal, she wondered why a Fortune 500 company like Nike could be
so blind to her needs as a consumer. “How can they spend so much
energy marketing to teenage boys?” asked Warner, who speaks at a
Restaurant NU reception on Monday, October 30. “How can they not
understand how much money I have to spend as a thirtysomething
woman?”

Sure, there was a time when household-heading men were the
customers worth wooing, when there weren’t enough women in the
workforce to bother vying for their dollars. But today, as Warner
points out, the shoe is on the other foot. In her new book, The
Power of the Purse, she explains that women now make 80 percent of
all buying decisions in this country, and shows how smart companies
have begun courting their $7 trillion in purchasing power. “We
don’t live in 1950s America, and we shouldn’t be marketing as
though we do,” said Warner, 40, during a recent interview from her
home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Demographic and social data show that
women have changed: the growth of women at executive levels, in
sports, the way we think about motherhood.”

Some companies have recognized the change and used it to their
advantage: Home Depot offers “Do-It-Herselfer” workshops for women
who are “power partners” in their homes. McDonald’s created salads
with fancy ingredients like edamame to appeal to women as diners
rather than merely as drivers who pay for the Happy Meals. And
DeBeers Diamonds turned its “right-hand ring” concept into a $4
billion industry by appealing to women’s desire for bling,
regardless of their marital status.

But it’s a “slow revolution,” says Warner, adding that even
companies as big as General Motors still treat women like a
minority marketing group. “We are not a minority group and we are
not a homogeneous market,” she said. “One ad campaign that works
for me is not going to work for my roommate. I love to drive, and I
really think cars are beautiful — but not all women are like
that.”

Santa Barbarans in particular might find Warner’s take on
philanthropy useful. Whereas women have always been involved in
charitable causes at the bake-sale level, they now control enough
wealth to change the world. “Now that we’re making far more money,
how do we use it to effect change?” she asked, adding that
nonprofits should recognize the different ways men and women
approach philanthropy. She explained, “Men see it as
reputation-building, a way to say, ‘I have arrived.’ Women want to
make a difference. They want something to happen. It’s more
personal.”

Writing the book made Warner more cognizant of where she spends
her money. “I’m willing to give companies the benefit of the doubt
if I see them doing something that shows respect to me as a
consumer,” she said, noting that she wound up buying her running
shoes at a women’s athletic store called See Jane Run. “Every time
you plunk down a dollar someplace, it’s a vote for a company that
does things right,” Warner affirmed, and women can encourage
companies to pay attention to them by speaking up when they like or
dislike something a business is doing. “As women, we tend not to
want to say anything. We tend not to want to make waves because we
get labeled as aggressive,” she explained. “Well, you know what?
Too bad. It’s better than not getting what you want.”

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