15/05/2016 8:28 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Are Women Programmed To Love Shopping Sprees?

Woman admiring her shopping
Hemant Mehta via Getty Images
Woman admiring her shopping

My parents were visiting us here in Abu Dhabi this week. As is pretty much the unwritten rule on every holiday abroad, my mom, my sister and I had some serious shopping time penned into our itinerary. Much to the dismay, of course, of my husband and father!

But until that last pair of dreamy shoes seen in that last shop we walked by or that delicious and much coveted tan leather bag that gave us sleepless nights hadn't been billed up and safely tucked amidst the colourful carry bags already lining the bedroom wall, the trip was incomplete.

The relationship between women and shopping mystifies most men. While most resign themselves to what they see as a fanatical fetish, they don't quite get it given that many of them dread even going to the mall for a new pair of boxers. (Their fanaticism tends to be reserved for sports, superhero movies and video games.)

According to psychologist Dr Steve Taylor, the shopping behaviour of men and women can be traced to 8000 BC, where men were hunters and women were gatherers.

For a woman entering a shopping mall, the excitement is at par with entering a wonderland (albeit one that comes with price tags attached). It's their turf, where they can visit any brand or service, browse through an ever-increasing spectrum of delights and walk out satisfied and with a feeling of accomplishment, their mission validated by an array of shopping bags.

Somehow, though, the unending racks and shelves of choice, colour, styles and variants seem to induce a release of endorphins and thus happiness only in women, leaving many men cold. One study found that men get bored shopping after 26 minutes but women are happy even two hours on.

Evolutionary theory could have an explanation for this phenomenon.

According to psychologist Dr Steve Taylor, the shopping behaviour of men and women can be traced to 8000 BC, where men were the hunters who killed animals and brought them home for food, while women were the gatherers, foraging for plants and nuts.

Women, he writes, continue to be in "gathering mode":

"When most women shop, they are in more of a 'gathering' mode - browsing from tree to tree (or shop to shop) looking for ripe and nutritious fruit. They spend a lot of time examining the food, checking its freshness and edibility, and they discard quite a lot of it. At the end of the trip, they return home laden with a wide variety of food stuffs (or shopping bags)."

Men, on the other hand, still operate like hunters, even if they happen to be in an air-conditioned shopping mall.

"[M]en's shopping habits may be related to their hunting heritage. This might explain why men appear to be more mono-focused, rather than browsers. In prehistoric terms, they have one thing in mind: kill an animal and go home. They don't want to waste time browsing, and it's not so necessary for them to examine their food acquisitions."

My husband and I fit right into this classification. While he belongs to the category of men that like to 'hunt' and go home as soon as their feet can carry them (or better yet avoid any shopping at all), I am admittedly my mother's daughter when it comes to the "gathering" or browsing role most women today enjoy.

Mall managements need to rack their brains and think of more ways to appeal to the male shopper so that the "hunter" can also enjoy being a "gatherer".

It certainly is an interesting way to justify shopping behaviour today though of course it's just a theory. All in all, shopping behaviour has witnessed a paradigm shift of epic proportions with the growing popularity of online retail, which bridges the gap between shoppers and the products they desire. Even so, evidence suggests that women prefer the experience of going into a shop or mall and investing in the effort to browse, discuss, reflect on and compare products, prices, fabrics, brands and stores before making their purchase. More men shop online than women.

I am an unabashed fan of online shopping, but size and fit matter to me. When it comes to selecting an item of clothing or shoes, I find myself in a predicament and often abort the online mission, heading instead to the mall and its trusty fitting rooms. Having said that, I would happily sit on my couch with a cup of coffee and order items from the online shelves if no fitting was required.

Interestingly, while more and more women are crossing the gender divide and developing their own fascination for traditional bastions of male interest (such as sports and video games), most men still seem to find shopping an ordeal.

Perhaps, as suggested by many experts on the subject, mall managements need to rack their brains and think of more ways to appeal to the male shopper and tickle his fancy so that the "hunter" can also enjoy being a "gatherer".

Meanwhile, I have just fished out my next shopping list so I better get on with it!

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