Book Review: “What Women Want: The Global Market Turns Female Friendly”

“What Women Want: The Global Market Turns Female Friendly”

by Paco Underhill c.2010, Simon & Schuster $25, 214 pages, includes index

“Go ask your father.”

Yeah, there’s a good chance you heard that a time or two during your childhood. Or this: “Just wait til your father gets home.”

And though your mother uttered those two sentences more times than you can remember, and though they both were enough to make your blood turn to ice, it was all just an act. The truth is that everyone knew who granted permission, meted out punishment and held the reins: Mom.

Some things never change, as you’ll learn in the new book, “What Women Want” by Paco Underhill.

Everywhere you look, whether in business or elsewhere, you can see the influence that women have on the way Americans buy, travel and live. That’s no surprise since about 70 percent of American women work outside the home, all women are consumers and many of them control their own finances. If your business doesn’t acknowledge and respect what they want and invite them to see for themselves, Underhill says, “it’s bad business.”

A woman, for instance, notices when a store isn’t clean. If there’s dirt on the floor or on the shelves, she’ll remember that. She won’t forget bad smells or lack of hygiene. And the bathroom better be spotless, or she’ll never be back.

At a time when headlines scream of danger, smart hoteliers accommodate women by not loudly broadcasting their name, room number, and lack of traveling companion at check-in. Smart retailers add cashiers so that women aren’t rushed when check-out is complete (watch a woman rearrange her purse sometime). Smart banks do it, too.

It’s easy to see the influences that women have on homes (more storage, big bathrooms), home offices (multitasking equipment), web design (the biggest online sites lack the industrial look for a reason), home repair (brightly-colored tools in the tool department), technology (women hate “even the merest whiff that a male employee is in any way talking down to them”), and more.

“Why don’t retailers get it?” Underhill asks. “Why aren’t they following the money?”

Perhaps because they haven’t read this book — yet. Non-retail businesses might not think they need to read it. One browse through “What Women Want” will prove otherwise.

Underhill is the founder and CEO of Envirosell Inc., a business that studies human behavior in retail, service, online and home environments. He’s made it his job to know how and why we buy, and what he’s discovered is fascinating.

In this book, you’ll learn why vacuum cleaners sell better to men, why change is not always good, and why department stores are often empty these days. You’ll see the reason for the shape of displays, why you should strategically add staff, and which three little words sum up the female shopper’s wants. Oh, and you’ll learn why your business — any business — should care.

If you want to stay relevant in this economy, or if you’re just curious about human behavior, you’re going to love what you read.

“What Women Want” ain’t your Daddy’s marketing book.

Book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.