February 3, 2012, 3:57 PM

M-commerce threatens a male stereotype

Yes, men do ask for (store) directions, if they can do it in private.

We all know the stereotype about a man and directions: Even if he were to take a wrong turn at the River Styx and end up in one of the grittier sections of Hades, he would be so protective of his pride that he’d keep on walking past the thorns and molten lakes instead of asking one of the more honest looking multi-headed talking dogs for the way back out.  

Stereotypes are usually dumb but sometimes fun and occasionally true enough. If you don’t believe me, recall how many of the manly men in your own lives—that is, in the rough world that existed before GPS—would demean themselves by begging guidance from a gas station attendant.  Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Perhaps that’s the reason I enjoyed a chuckle earlier today when talking to two of the friendly e-commerce data experts at Compete. We were discussing a survey they’d done last fall of 2,200 U.S. online shoppers, some 35% of whom said they’d used their mobile devices for shopping.  That’s a pretty healthy rate, another sign of how retail is changing. I asked analysts Matt Pace and Lindsay Steinbach to point out any data that was noteworthy or surprising to them (reporters are sometimes like Tom Sawyer: they try to get other people to do their work).

Lindsay directed my attention to a couple of data points that I’d not yet digested. One broke down the gender differences between those mobile shoppers who had used their devices to look up such information as store hours, phone numbers and locations. 58% of women had done so; a solid 55% of men had said the same thing. I could hear her laughing, kindly, through the static of the conference call. She knew the stereotype, too.

Then we moved to the question that asked mobile shoppers what kinds of retail-related apps they had downloaded to their smartphones and tablets. When it came to store location tools, men outpaced women 24% to 19%. This time the laughing was mainly from me—hey, you take what humor you can some workdays—and it only increased as Matt offered a theory that perhaps men really will ask for directions if they can keep the activity hidden from those around them, which is definitely one of the appeals of the mobile life.

What’s the point of all this? I don’t know. It’s Friday afternoon and it’s been a long week. But I feel I must tell you, loyal InternetRetailer.com reader, that I still know how to navigate by the sun, that I can tell which direction an interstate highway is going by whether its number is odd or even—and that I’ve never, ever used any mapping or GPS feature in my iPhone, especially when my wife was around.

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