Now, I know that these days more men than ever are considered to be serious shoppers.  No longer is it considered the exclusive domain of women.  But that’s how I’ve long regarded it.  For me food shopping represents my limit.  Even then the list must be manageable, and the supermarket layout familiar.  I’ve always assumed that shopping was what women liked to do, perhaps equivalent to the preoccupation of men with sports.  Supposedly women thrive on it, happily spend hour after hour roaming the aisles, may even consider it an adventure (even when they emerge empty handed).  That this is an overtly sexist viewpoint is undeniable; still time and again I’ve witnessed women going at it most methodically, heard them express their passion for and commitment to the task.  Might there be a genetic disposition here?

Being a shopping outsider lacking in style or strategy, I’ve never stopped to consider or analyze how the process operates.  On the surface it seems to include considerable poking around, punctuated by occasional euphoria, interspersed with periods of indecision and frustration.  Recently I had the opportunity to gain greater insight when I went shopping with my wife.  The following blow-by-blow account will reveal how seasoned shoppers go about their business.

Off to a department store we went to buy a duvet cover for our blanket.  We had consulted with a decorator who selected one for us to consider.  After locating the duvet section we spotted one quite similar to what she’d recommended.  The cover was, however, just one-fifth the price she had quoted.  “Too inexpensive.”  Couldn’t possibly look or feel as good.  Might buying it “offend” our decorator, who’d surely conclude we had “cheaped out”?  Besides, would the design color match the rest of the area?  That depended on our ability to mentally reconstruct the room and gauge how the cover related to other elements there – not a simple task.

As I soon discovered, a shopper may be prone to a snap decision, but rarely is it the final one.  Almost always it’s followed by a period of hesitation and reconsideration.  Initial enthusiasm often fades and alternatives are then examined.  While men are likely to be impatient impulse shoppers, women tend to be far more deliberative and reflective.  That said, our initial selection ended up back on the shelf.

Other possibilities were now up for consideration as we walked back and forth at the shelf displays.  We discovered one with an interesting stripe and appropriate color.  Better yet, it was on sale.  But stripes are tricky.  It could look too busy and clash with the rug and our window treatment.  Perhaps it’s better to play it safe.  Sure enough, right next to it there’s one completely white with some tasteful design features as well; also on sale.  Is it too bland?  What will it add to the room?

My suggestion – buy them both.  Once home we’ll put each on the bed, determine which works best and return the other.  She agrees.  And off we head to the register.  But before we arrive, she’s decided the stripe won’t work and has me return it to the shelf.

Back home now she goes on line and locates the specific duvet cover recommended by the decorator.  “I think it will work,” she declares.  Tomorrow we’ll return the one we just bought.”

So, what did I learn from this shopping excursion?  Shopping is not about settling.  And is not the simple task that is may appear to be.  It involves several stages from quest to decision and then to reconsideration and frequently to return.  My role I realized on this occasion progressively diminished:  women do have the upper hand here.  My opinion was valued, or at least solicited, but was not determinative.  I saw no reason to assert myself inasmuch as her taste and visual sense I considered superior to mine.  Plus, I preferred not to be held accountable for the final choice.

I also discovered how counterproductive it would be to impose a time limit here, how important it was for the entire process to play out, to proceed through its normal cycle from search through selection with indecision and confusion along the way.  Skip a stage and you risk upsetting the natural rhythm of the shopping process.

I will never be a “shopper”.  But then I will never underestimate or fail to appreciate the thought, imagination and persistence that precedes many a purchase.

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