In recent years, oversized houses (that are sometimes referred to as “McMansions”) have enjoyed great popularity. Yet, Underhill believes that these houses appeal more to men’s sensibilities than to women’s. Data suggests that empty nesters want to downsize, and houses which suit nontraditional families sell at a premium. Home buyers do not mind sacrificing space in exchange for homes that have features they will really use. For example, home offices, home exercise rooms, or standalone apartments for elderly parents or adult children are all growing in popularity.

Kennecott Land, a real estate development group, created a market advisory board comprised of only women. This group largely advocated for kitchens that incorporate the children. A kitchen of this type would have multi-level counters and open out onto a play area. Another concept that the group recommended was a “family bathroom”–that is, a pair of side by side bathrooms with a door in between. This configuration would work well for parents who need to supervise young children, but still want some privacy.

Another appealing concept for women is “New Urbanist Communities” like Seaside, Florida. These towns are a blend of city and suburb where residents are always looking out for one another. The communities are structured in a way that people can walk to do their shopping. Underhill notes, however, that New Urbanist Communities are not for everyone due to the uniform housing styles and structures related to community living.

The Kitchen

Over time, the role and design of the kitchen has changed significantly. Before the Civil War, it was known primarily the woman’s “work room.” In the Victorian era, new kitchen technologies were invented, and as the years rolled on, architects began to construct kitchens directly around appliances. As women returned to the workplace in the 1970s and 1980s, however, they no longer wanted the kitchen to be a separate, isolated room from the rest of the house, and it began to become more integrated.

Today, Underhill describes the kitchen as the social center of the home. Since open plan kitchens blend with other rooms, kitchen appliances are being designed to be more attractive and unobtrusive. High end homes often have “mega-kitchens” with dedicated zones for different tasks and professional grade appliances. Underhill notes that if the kitchen is the woman’s domain, then men have embraced the sophisticated backyard barbecue as a place to use powerful gas grills and other gadgets.

The Bathroom

Like the kitchen, bathrooms have also been transformed over time. In the past, the bathroom was a room that no women wanted to be seen visiting. Today, the bathroom is a refuge for overworked women. Underhill describes modern bathrooms as a place characterized by hedonism, luxury, fantasy, and self-regard. He believes that bathrooms reflect comfort for a woman, as well as how highly she thinks of herself. Both kitchens and bathrooms are a status symbol for today’s modern woman. In terms of features and functionality, the minimum for a high-end bathroom is a spa tub. Adequate storage in the bathroom is another feature that women prize highly.

The Home Office

When Underhill was young, home offices were cluttered rooms that parents used as in-house getaways. Home offices today are still popular–a 2005 survey by the American Institute of Architects found that home offices were the most requested feature in home design projects. However, they look very different from the home offices of the past. A home office today is very welcoming and for women it represents a way to blend the external and domestic worlds. In fact, the dominant influence of contemporary home office culture is women.

In a home office, mothers and children work side by side on their laptops. This enables women to ensure that children are doing their homework and using the Internet appropriately. The all-in-one printer is a major time saver for women, enabling them to print, scan, copy, and fax materials for every member of the family.

Two essential technologies for the home office are wireless Internet and wireless Bluetooth. Thanks to the Internet, a woman can research purchases online from the comfort of her home office and then drive to the nearest store to make the purchase or buy online. Underhill also describes the Internet as a source of “secondary shopping therapy.” It is possible for women to window shop online and view the latest fashion in cities all over the world. He goes on to suggest that there are certain characteristics that make a website more appealing to women. These include providing entertainment value, creating a welcoming environment, and not requiring users to enter too much personal information. Office product superstores are the example that Underhill gives for an industry that has mastered female unfriendly websites. These are sites that definitely should not be emulated by companies who want to attract more women shoppers.

Home Exercise and Wellness Rooms

Although women use public gyms extensively, these venues are often visually, emotionally, and physically over-stimulating. Many women prefer a dedicated room in their home for exercise and wellness activities. Underhill believes that for women home gyms equate to being in control, while also doing something good for themselves. In addition to traditional exercise equipment, many home gyms have an area devoted to more contemplative activities that appeal to women, such as yoga or Pilates. Benefits of a home gym include no membership fee, no crowds, no discomfort from other people watching, and the flexibility to engage in routines that are as long as one likes. “In-home” personal trainers are also appealing to women because they focus on fostering a person relationship.

In reality, however, not everyone has the space for a home gym. Fortunately, more public athletic clubs are focusing on women’s needs. One example is the Curves chain which offers a “women only” gym experience. Many gyms have expanded their offerings to include yoga and Pilates classes, rock climbing, massage therapists, and cafes.

Home Maintenance

Household help is very common in other countries, especially emerging markets. However, in the United States, most people do their own housework. In fact, home maintenance is an area where women are playing a much larger role. Underhill describes women who undertake maintenance and home improvement projects as “tool belt divas.” A tool belt diva in her forties may have been required as a child to assist her single mother with maintenance tasks, or perhaps she simply has an interest in understanding how things work. Over the years, as women gained independence and went to work, many shared apartments with other women or lived on their own. Since these women did not want to rely on men for help and they were often on a budget, they became involved with maintenance tasks.

Television shows have educated women about home improvement projects, and websites like BeJane.com target female do-it-yourselfers. Most women who embrace home maintenance work will only hire a professional if the job requires too much physical strength or if the costs of the necessary tools are excessive. It is estimated that women spend approximately $50 billion on home improvement products annually. Underhill notes that in many cases, men appreciate the efforts of tool belt divas and are not at all resentful of their entrance into the traditionally male world of home improvement and maintenance.


Women travelers are very particular about hotel rooms. They notice the cleanliness, lighting, temperature, color, flooring, size or firmness of the pillows, and whether or not they feel safe. Underhill believes that every major hotel chain has revamped its properties and service to accommodate the needs of single female travelers.

For example, most lobby check-in counters now have a raised ledge below the actual counter which is ideal for resting a purse or briefcase. In addition, it has become standard practice for the clerk to write the room number inside a folded envelope which contains the key. This ensures privacy and helps guests feel more secure.

Underhill interviewed Pam Dillon, a professional and frequent traveler, to gather her insights about hotels and how they can be made more appealing to women. In addition to the room being clean, she made the following observations:

* For men, the gender of bellhops and room service staff is a non-issue. However, Dillon believes that many women would be more comfortable if they could interact with a female bellhop and/or room service clerk.

* Pillows and furniture are important. If a hotel can meet a female traveler’s pillow needs, it will go a long way toward promoting loyalty. Also, furniture and fixtures should be no more than two to three years old.

* It is also important to women to have the ability to adjust the temperature. This should be easy to control.

* For many women, the bathroom can make or break a stay. Warm efficient lighting is essential and some women are particular about the amenities, like soap and shampoo. Bowed shower curtains are a female friendly feature which makes the shower less claustrophobic and prevents physical contact with the shower curtain.

Dillon noted that her ideal hotel room would be customized to her, in terms of pillows, soft linens, and soft towels. The hotel would ideally know her preferences, but she would not want to feel that she has been invaded to get that information.


Even though almost half of U.S. electronics purchases are made by women, female buyers tend to avoid big box electronics stores. These retailers are perceived as having too many things to select from and not enough personalized service. Instead, women tend to purchase electronics online. Underhill’s research has found a clear correlation between the success of a store and the number of female employees working on the floor. Women tend to trust other women more and when buying electronics, female consumers are turned off by male employees who treat them in a condescending way.

Underhill visited a Best Buy store to evaluate whether the retailer was configured in a female friendly way. He found that a woman store manager and the inclusion of women in the store advertising added a sense of intimacy to the store environment. Most women buy technology and consumer electronics as tools to facilitate relationships and their day-to-day lives, not to accumulate “cool gadgets.” Underhill states that “men buy instruments of technology, while women buy instruments of relationship.” A proven way to sell to women is to create a ready built picture that both display products and engage the imaginations about what is possible. However, the Best Buy store had very few of these types of displays. In the laptop product category, women often make their purchase decision based on how much the computer weighs. Yet, the store had no signs to indicate which laptop was the lightest model. At the checkout line, there was no sign that informed shoppers that employees would help them get heavy items loaded into their cars. This service would be very welcome by women. Best Buy’s installation team–the Geek Squad–is comprised of mostly men. This service might be more appealing to women if there were more female “geeks” on the team. On the positive side, Underhill found the women’s restroom to be clean, bright, and marbled.


As with the economy in general, women have significant economic power in product categories that are often considered “vices”–gambling, smoking, and alcohol.

* Gambling. Until the late 1980s, casinos viewed slot machines as a way to keep women occupied while men played at the gambling tables. However, the gaming industry quickly realized that they were earning more income from slot machines than table games. In addition, they were making more money from women than men. Women are the primary gamblers at slot machines and efforts have been made to make them more appealing to this demographic group. Slot machines have been themed to evoke memories of childhood television programs, multiple play features let people make more than one bet at a time, and penny machines that demand greater concentration are especially popular with women. Many casinos have also introduced loyalty cards to track customer winnings and often in casino hotel rooms, a woman will be on the television explaining the rules of every casino game.

* Weight Loss and Smoking. Many women have a conflicted relationship with food. Every day, Americans spend $109 million on average on dieting and diet-related products. While men are more likely to diet for health reasons, women diet in response to social pressures. Women make a clear connection between cigarettes and weight loss. Most cigarettes targeted at female customers are long, thin, and tubular. From a retail perspective, convenience stores are the most popular places to buy cigarettes, followed by drugstores. Underhill notes that the stores that carry cigarettes are geared heavily to their communities. In blue collar communities, the percentage of smokers is much higher than in high end neighborhoods. In addition to helping with weight loss, the author adds that smoking is seen as a way to punctuate time and an excuse for taking a break.

* Alcohol. According to the author, in the liquor industry, marketers focus on three factors to appeal to women customers: light, bright, and white. In the case of alcohol, this translates into white wine, light beer, and any product that is luminous, sparkly, or colorful. White wine sales, in particular, have increased significantly among female consumers. Many wine producers have created what they believe are female friendly labels that are often pink and overly cute. A better approach would be to consider what criteria women bring to wine selection. With regard to beer, most women buy beer for social gatherings. Yet, beer manufacturers and marketers have never positioned beer as the drink of choice for social gatherings that center around a meal. This is a missed opportunity according to Underhill.


The retail world is very familiar to women, but there is much more that retailers can do to attract female shoppers. Underhill analyzes women’s preferences related to clothing, shopping malls, food shopping, drugstores, and cosmetics.

Clothing Stores

Department store shopping has slowed significantly over time. This is due partially to the fact that women simply do not have three to four hours to shop. In addition, most department stores are divided into small branded “fiefdoms.” This is not consistent with how women shop. The typical female consumer does not identify with a single designer.

As a result, it is not surprising that specialty stores are overtaking department stores. They are smaller, more focused, have better trained employees, and better dressing rooms. Although department stores will not disappear in the twenty-first century, Underhill predicts that there will be fewer of them in the future.

Another benefit of specialty stores is their ability to serve a particular demographic. Banana Republic, for example, split its stores by gender and has outperformed Gap. Women over fifty are a customer group that is almost completely overlooked by clothing retailers, yet this group controls a large amount of income. In general, consumers want value, price, and convenience, but value is by far the most important factor.

Shopping Malls

Modern shopping malls must provide a more comprehensive experience and shopping solution to customers. One example of a mall that is driven by female consumer preferences is The Grove in Los Angeles. The Grove duplicates an ideal urban experience, where various ethnicities mingle in a secure environment. It offers a lawn, farmers’ market, and a streetcar. Underhill believes that The Grove offers what contemporary women want from a mall–a safe form of escape.

The modern mall must evolve into a place where women can do all sorts of errands, ranging from getting a key made or shoes repaired to dropping off dry cleaning and picking up dinner. Malls must be integrated into the fiber of daily life. Underhill believes that adding food, groceries, drugstores and more to a mall makes it more of a center and will keep female shoppers there longer. He sees no reason why Target, Whole Foods, and Neiman Marcus cannot co-exist within the same mall complex.

Retail must follow housing trends. It is not surprising then that urban retailing has been enjoying a resurgence, as people move back into cities like New York and Chicago. At a tactical level, modern malls should follow Underhill’s checklist, which includes clean dressing rooms with ample space and flattering lighting, and a place for men to sit comfortably while their wives, significant others, or daughters shop.

Food and Farmers’ Markets

Women have contributed significantly to the popularity of farmers’ markets. Within the world of agriculture, women are playing a major role. Underhill believes one reason that small scale production and processing of food has traditionally been a female world is because many women love to garden.

The farmers’ market movement has improved the quality of life in many neighborhoods and consumers have discovered how enjoyable it is to buy directly from the source. Farmers’ markets are actively striving to expand their appeal to a broader range of customers. One important step in this process is to bring in vendors who resemble the customers that the market hopes to attract.

On a larger scale, Whole Foods has done a great job of offering a convenient shopping solution to people who want organic and healthful foods. The chain manages the customer experience well, and the overall operating culture is friendly. Whole Foods has become a facilitator for people who want to live a more balanced lifestyle.


Women comprise over 60 percent of drugstores’ customers. Since drugstores’ target customer group is women over the age of forty, stores tend to be structured around this segment’s needs and interests. With the advent of pharmacies in supermarkets and superstores, drugstores are finding that less of their revenue is generated from prescription drug sales. Yet, the pharmacy still drives around 30 percent of drugstore traffic. This results in an interesting dynamic for drugstores. On one hand, capitalizing on prescription drug sales is important and the sales process is becoming more female dominated. Over the past ten years, the number of women pharmacists has grown and now almost 65 percent of pharmacists are female. Pharmacists are one of the only healthcare professionals that an American can consult without making an appointment or paying a fee. Pharmacists are also perceived as being more neutral about drugs than doctors who may be influenced by big pharmaceutical companies.

On the other hand, drugstores are also striving to find new ways to make up for prescription drug income that has been lost to superstores. Home healthcare is one of the fastest growing drugstore product segments, especially among women who are responsible for caring for elderly parents. Another growth area is vitamins and supplements. In addition, many drugstores now offer single serving portions of food. These products are in high demand by singles and the elderly. They also appeal to women shoppers who do not like to frequent convenience stores. Underhill views drugstores as one of the unusual retail businesses that cater to women of every age.


Cosmetics are sold primarily through three major channels–mass market outlets such as drugstores, prestige channels such as department stores, and standalone beauty stores.

* Mass channels. Self-service cosmetic sales in a drugstore setting are liberating for women because the pricing is transparent. However, this sales model also has its disadvantages. Store managers dislike the cosmetics section because it is labor intensive, prone to shoplifters, and hard to keep clean. There are also space issues. With limited shelf space available for products, drugstores have typically banished mirrors from their cosmetic aisles. Underhill believes that cosmetic sales in mass channels result in frustration for business owners and consumers alike.

* Prestige channels. Many women find cosmetic shopping in department stores intimidating. The prices are hidden and salespeople can also be very pressure-oriented with products. Most prestige cosmetic brands have taken steps to be more “customer friendly.” Another issue with selling cosmetics in department stores is the fact that the customer base is aging. Young women are less inclined to buy makeup at a store that they feel is “unhip.”

* Standalone beauty stores. At branded stores, prestige cosmetic brands have control over the selling environment. Sephora, for example, has reinvented the traditional dynamic between customers and salespeople. It invented the “open sell” where pricing is transparent, selling is collaborative, and all the products are on display.


A woman’s hair is both a fashion statement and an extension of herself. Beauty salons offer many services beyond hair care, including nail and body treatments, tanning and massage, and beauty products. The combination salon-day spa is one of the fastest growing segments in the beauty industry.

For women under 30, hair is a style and personality issue. For those over thirty, haircuts and hair colors have become a form of maintenance. Approximately 60 percent of American women have colored their hair in the last year. In a culture obsessed with youth, many women fear gray hair. Underhill believes that the antidote is a beautiful model with gorgeous gray hair. While hair on a woman’s head is a source of pride, hair elsewhere is a challenge and source of occasional embarrassment.


Facebook’s fastest growing demographic group is women aged fifty-five and over. In addition, across every age group, Facebook is growing more quickly among women than men. Underhill believes that Facebook’s popularity can be attributed in part to suburbanization and the car. Both have created large distances between people, but humans still want to connect with friends and family. Once a woman joins Facebook, her behavior is driven primarily by fostering relationships, not transactions.

Among American female Internet users, blogs are the most influential social media. Approximately 42 million American women use some form of social media each week. They engage in networking, writing, reading, and commenting on blogs, and leaving comments on message boards. Social networking and blogging have become informal ways of trading brand names. As a result, they have become an effective and informal means of viral marketing that is a threat to traditional media advertising.

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