Are Men The M-Commerce Sweet Spot?

“My goal is to read War and Peace,” my daughter announced the other day, as if it were a 12K run toward which she had to train herself. She is in the midst of a literary preoccupation that her egghead father has been waiting for much of her life. My Halo and Skyrim-playing kid, who once broke my heart by saying Catcher in the Rye kinda sucks," suddenly has acquired an eclectic taste for dense novels, sometime deep and sometimes just long.

Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, Shelley's Frankenstein, Frank Herbert's Dune, Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, King's The Stand -- she is all over the map. But for now she claims she has put down the game controller and picked up paper. In fact, she rejects my attempts to gift her iPad with e-books. “I like the books,” she claims. Where did this kid come from?

I learned long ago to tread carefully at these moments. A parent can blow it by being too enthusiastic about sharing a passion. I also didn’t want to disabuse her of the notion that War and Peace was an especially hard book, since really it is just a big sprawling historical epic with more annoying patronymics than I care to contemplate. I was thinking of tossing Anna Karenina at her as a warm-up until it struck me that I didn’t want to give a 20-year old coed a book about a morally confused and tortured young woman who, well, ya know.

So as she is walking me through her ambitions for future reading I have my iPhone in hand and simply order War and Peace from Amazon as part of her Christmas bundle. I just shopped for her for Christmas while she was sitting four feet from me and without her knowledge. For a shopping-averse male, this is a new kind of Nirvana. I can do my Christmas shopping while wife and daughter are in the room, literally ordering from the touchscreen as they offhandedly mention gift ideas. This is closer to a waiter taking a dinner order than Black Friday madness. This is mobile technology solving a real problem.

“For guys, it's not that they hate to shop,” argues Ethelbert Williams, head of marketing, Total Beauty Media Group,” which runs the beauty products evaluation site TotalBeauty.com as well as the longstanding mobile women’s content property Limelife and the male-focused ModernMan.com.

Well, actually I beg to differ. I think many men really do hate to shop. A lot of us don’t mind buying stuff. But the process of shopping itself is a special kind of torture. But I will play along.

“Guys like the one-stop shop,” Williams says. In a recent survey of its users and their mobile and online shopping habits, Total Beauty Media found that 23% of men will do all of their holiday shopping online. “They like simplicity and they like convenience,” he says.

And apparently, they really, really like devices. Among the men surveyed at ModernMan.com who owned smartphones, 84% of them said they are using them in-store to research products. Among the women surveyed at Total Beauty’s other sites, that number fell to a still-hearty 60%.

A similar split occurs around actual m-commerce. The survey found that 86% of men were either planning to or already had made a purchase on their mobile device. Again, this compared to only 60% of women who said they had used m-commerce.

Interestingly, men in this poll seemed much more tuned in to the idea that devices are shopping shortcuts. When asked about the apps on their phones and tablets, 73% of men said they had m-commerce or shopping-related apps on deck, while only 55% of women did.

This makes me wonder whether women who actually enjoy the process of shopping are a bit ambivalent about some mobile tools precisely for the same reason shopping-averse males like me embrace them -- they help cut through aspects of the shopping experience that some consider essential and others regard as painful.

My wife won’t load the shopping apps onto her phone I use and recommend regularly. Instead, I am assigned tech duty in-store. She shops while I do the look-ups. I have actually seen this gendered division of labor in stores. At Best Buy I have seen women reeling off product names and even SKUs while their husband follows, looking them up on his smartphone.

When it comes to shopping for my daughter, however, Williams is spot-on. Her dad needs a massive one-stop shop. “Do you still play with your Nintendo 3DS?” she asks. For 17 of her 20 years, this has been her way of seeing whether I am ready to pass a gadget along to her.  

“Nightly,” I assure her, as I add another item to the Amazon checkout. War and Peace, Nintendo and Zelda. This is the point where the smart parent restrains himself from mentioning that his daughter is following in her father's footsteps.

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