Cracking the Mysteries of the Male Shopper; As More Men Shop Online, Retailers Like East Dane Try to Understand Them

July 24, 2013, 7:06 p.m. ET

Cracking the Mysteries of the Male Shopper

As More Men Shop Online, Retailers Like East Dane Try to Understand Them

CHRISTINA BINKLEY

The male clothes shopper, long an enigma, is increasingly being spotted online, and the folks at ShopBop are ready for the chase. The women’s-clothing site, owned by Amazon, has been observing the way guys shop online. As a result, its new men’s site, East Dane, which is to debut in September, will look and function very differently from ShopBop. For instance, it will show models mostly from the neck down, present bigger product photos, and include in every order a strip of packing tape to ease a potential return.East Dane is one of a number of style brands and retailers chasing a highly promising yet relatively neglected prey: the style-seeking, online-shopping male. Shaving-products brand Harry’s, subscription service Birchbox and eyewear seller Warby Parker have all launched in the past few years.

Women have long dominated consumer fashion both online and off, but men’s interest is on the rise, and they are expected to offer big growth in coming years, particularly as the millennial generation settles into adulthood. According to Nielsen data, women still make the majority of household purchase decisions and spend more time online, but men increased most types of shopping between 2004 and 2012.

Men’s cosmetics and hair-care items have become well-accepted products. Men have also adapted to the fast-changing fashion trends that have been the norm in womenswear, accepting slim-cut styles and ankle-revealing pant lengths.

“Men are becoming more like women in [the fashion] context,” says Michael Solomon, director of the Center for Consumer Research at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “As you get younger and younger, the differences almost disappear.”

But even fashion-savvy men, it turns out, are very different from their female counterparts. One-third of ShopBop’s female customers browse on the site daily. “Daily!” says Jeff Yurcisin, ShopBop’s president. “The average male just isn’t wired that way.” As a result, East Dane will change its home-page photos weekly, as opposed to ShopBop’s daily change.

East Dane will share its sister site’s DNA, carrying fashionable labels at premium—though not luxury—prices. But executives have worked hard to set up a masculine tone and look. The name is a riff on Dane County, where the Madison, Wis., company is based (it maintains a co-headquarters in New York City) and its East Washington Avenue address. “We loved the regal, masculine quality” of the name, says Darcy Penick, the company’s chief merchandising officer.

Style guidance is integral to success for men’s sites. While women enjoy the thrill of the hunt, they don’t mind coming home empty-handed after browsing, whereas “for a man to walk into a retail environment and walk out with nothing—that would be viewed as a failure,” says David Bell, a Wharton School marketing professor who researches consumer behavior.

East Dane will offer advice on how to assemble an office-ready look. It will also have a place where men can store information on brands they want to return to in the future. Men, Mr. Yurcisin says, are more likely to rely on the advice of an expert, rather than a friend, and tend to buy brands they’ve bought in the past.

In order to offer a simpler path to the goods, East Dane takes the risk of doing away with the left-side-of-the-page navigation panel that has become a common guide on many websites. It does have a navigation panel at the top of the page. While Mr. Yurcisin concedes there is a risk to having shoppers learn new navigation moves, he says it frees up valuable real estate for those bigger product photos. Men want to face fewer decisions and more streamlined navigation, he says.

Other findings: Men find models’ faces distracting. And guys don’t want “gifty” looking packages arriving at their homes: East Dane is dispensing with the tissue paper used in ShopBop’s packages.

Having a Y chromosome may even affect feelings about returning packages in the mail. While women hate returns, too, the process is less likely to stand in the way of shopping. “We received consistent feedback that men often feel the process of returning a package, from obtaining a box to postage, was a bit of a hurdle,” says Ms. Penick. Hence the packing tape.

Like the men’s floor in a department store, East Dane looks like a separate site but is the same business, sharing executives, distribution systems and even shopping carts with ShopBop. It will be possible to put items from both sites in one shopping cart.

Other men’s sites have been discovering the need to cater to the dude factor. Bonobos, a men’s apparel retailer that launched in 2007, saw an uptick in business recently after it realized men have a strong need to touch and feel clothing before buying it. Bonobos has been opening “Guide Shops” in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and other major cities, where men can meet with a stylist, try on clothes, and then place orders online. The showrooms, which don’t directly sell merchandise, also halved Bonobos’ marketing expense, to less than 10% of net revenue from more than 20%, says Andy Dunn, the company’s chief executive. “It’s the Apple Genius Bar for clothes,” he says. He declined to share sales figures.

While women were earlier adopters of online shopping, Saint Joseph’s Mr. Solomon expects the genders’ shopping habits to converge. “Women are just ahead of the curve on that because they’ve been at it longer,” he says.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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