Anatomy of a female customer

Jan. 1, 2020
A few simple steps like listening can be your ticket to increased sales to women DIYers.
What men don’t know about women could fill volumes, but overlooking your female customers could prove detrimental to your business if you’re not careful. For parts distributors who are male, success with members of the opposite sex — as in life’s other avenues — could be as easy as listening to her questions and treating her like a human being.

Recent studies indicate female do-it-yourselfers (DIYers) have a prominent place in the aftermarket like never before. Some are buying parts for friends or family members to perform repairs. Others, however, are wielding their own monkey wrenches in a subversion of old-fashioned norms where Mrs. Cleaver once watched Ward repair the family wagon from afar.

“There has been an increase in woman DIYers because women are staying single longer,” says Courtney Caldwell, editor-in-chief for Road & Travel magazine (formerly American Woman Road & Travel).

Women DIYers are likely to perform basic maintenance activities, like oil changes, but still rely on technicians for some of the more labor intensive activities, says Caldwell.

Though female DIYers are likely to receive help with their repairs, they are still buying the parts, and they still understand their vehicles. So don’t assume she doesn’t know what she’s doing, even if she admits to you she will not be the one installing the part(s).

Aftermarket Business spoke to one such DIYer who accused a parts store, which she declines to name, of charging her more money for the exact same item that her husband purchased at a lower price. Another tells us if the proper female-friendly tools are marketed to them, perhaps they would perform more of their own vehicle repairs.

Accommodating female customers does not mean rearranging your entire store; rather, the only things that may need rearranging are your attitude and preconceived notions of gender roles.

So what type of female DIYer is most likely to frequent your store?

First off, she’s young

A recent Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) study investigating female automotive maintenance attests older women are more likely than younger women to take their vehicles to dealerships and independent service centers. “Younger women make less money; their careers are just starting out,” Caldwell adds.

The women who are changing oil and installing batteries also are more likely to perform these activities on a vehicle  belonging to a friend, neighbor or family member.

Cathy Carson, 42, who works for a prominent automotive parts manufacturer in California and performs routine maintenance on her vehicle, says she has to overcome a little curve just about every time she shops for parts.

After the counter people realize she knows her stuff, Carson says, “They’re impressed and very happy to work with me.”

She says after many employees realize how knowledgeable she really is, they tend to over explain, which is not a bad thing: especially for women, who prove themselves to be more discerning customers than their male counterparts.

She also has a theory as to why a majority of female DIYers get help with their maintenance. “I know many women who do extensive work on their cars (but) if they came out with a women’s tool set (made for smaller hands), you’d probably have more women doing things for themselves.”

If we could generalize (which we ultimately shouldn’t, because everyone is different in their own right), this customer is most likely to be single and come from a household with three or fewer people. Though she is inclined to have help from someone else when actually performing the repair, she is a key decision-maker when buying aftermarket parts and accessories.

Activities like refilling windshield washer fluid and motor oil and replacing wiper blades were high on the list of women’s preferred DIY activities cited in our 2004 Aftermarket Business DIY Survey (see page 24 of this issue).

Men, on the other hand, were much more likely than women to replace vehicle batteries and use repair tools and equipment, predictably enough, but not all of the heavier activities are the province of the male gender. About 41 percent of women DIYers polled use repair tools and equipment as opposed to the 62 percent of men surveyed. This female DIYer also is likely to perform work on a friend’s, family member’s or neighbor’s vehicle. Replacing motor oil was the most frequent activity that female DIYers in our study cited doing for friends, neighbors and relatives.

This hypothetical customer is more likely to be between the ages of 26 and 45. Younger women statistically shop less but spend more, and the women in our study between 26 and 35 were more likely to engage in labor-intensive automotive maintenance.

Following the logic that people who make more money are more apt to have someone else perform their vehicle maintenance for them, women most likely to perform their own DIY work are also more likely to have some college or an associate’s degree or less, according to the AAIA research. A larger percentage of women with college degrees are more likely to take their vehicle to a dealer or independent shop, the AAIA study concludes.

Like the men surveyed in our DIY study, more women chose national brands over store brands and considered quality high on the list of reasons for purchasing national brand items.

This customer may have less to spend, but she’ll prove to be a more loyal customer in the long run and beneficial in many other ways.

Though women are notorious for being tighter than men with their money — “They’re much more conservative with their dollars because they have less money to spend,” Caldwell explains — they are more likely to be loyal customers after a positive shopping experience.

Female DIYers we studied spent an average of $414 each over the past year on automotive-related products, though women under 25 spent an average of $638 each. Male DIYers, in contrast, spent an average of $685 per year, with men under 25 spending, on average, $891.

The most significant household salary range of DIY women we studied was between $20,000 and $39,000, about 35 percent of those polled.

Women may have less to spend, but interestingly are more likely to make unplanned purchases. Almost all of the women who participated in our DIY study responded they’re likely to make unplanned purchases more often than men. And the area they’re most likely to do that in is the accessory part of the store. Perhaps this offers an opportunity to take advantage of impulse buys, placing some female-friendly automotive accessories at the front of your store near the cash registers.

Our DIY study reveals that women between 36 and 45 are the largest DIY automotive customer base.

Women under 35, though, should not be discounted. In general, it is this group that spent the most of all age groups surveyed. They are a prominent part of the marketplace, spending bundles of disposable income to trick their rides. A recent visit to a national tire chain store found a young woman, visibly under 21, bragging about “putting some dual pipes on it” and various other planned upgrades.

Women DIYers we surveyed are more likely to turn to a friend or relative for help. Men, predictably said they went for the repair manual first.

What does this female DIYer drive?

In our report females said that the top five brands for which they buy parts are the Ford Taurus (No. 1), followed by the Ford Explorer, Ford Escort, Dodge Caravan and the Honda Accord. These vehicles also are most likely to be manufactured in the ’90s. Accommodating these customers should be simple since the parts needed are likely on your shelves and won’t require inventory changeovers.

After passenger cars, light trucks are the most popular vehicles among women DIYers. Ninety-nine percent of both men and women we studied own their vehicles.

As far as the professions of women DIYers, the largest population marked “homemaker” as their occupation, followed by “clerical/administrative assistant” and “health care related.” The majority of female DIY respondents live in the East and Midwest.

Talk is not cheap

Women are more likely to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations than men, according to our DIY study. Caldwell, from Road & Travel, says they’re also more likely to spread the word, so be sure you treat them right.

“It’s a trust issue,” she says. “Most women walk in with an attitude of, ‘I’m going to be treated badly; I’m going to be treated like I’m stupid.’ They’re on the defensive when they come in.” They’ll be elated if you treat them the way you should, she suggests.

Being tightlipped at home with your wife may work for some men, but you’re going to have to engage in conversation with your female customers, Caldwell adds. “Women will ask a lot of questions and that irritates a lot of mechanics and salespeople. Males don’t want to look stupid. Women want to know everything.”

As irritating as it may be to have customers asking more questions, it does have its benefits. As with men, knowledgeable salespeople was the third reason women DIYers shopped at their favorite stores, according to the Aftermarket Business DIY Survey. And more women than men responded they turned to the counterperson for help, which is your big chance to make sales and keep a customer (and whomever else she relays her experience to).

But don’t mistake communicating with coddling or you’re just as likely to lose the sale. Be informed and be prepared to actually answer questions. The days of grunts as exchanges in the automotive parts stores and distribution channels are over.

“Just make sure you don’t talk down to us or assume we don’t know what we need,” says Christina Viles, who frequently buys parts for her husband, but knows exactly where the part goes on her car.

The Brighton, Mo., resident bristles at the notion of the condescending pat on the head by male store employees. She says in her observation, the older crowd tends to talk down to women more often than younger employees do.

Carson, another female DIYer, says that older employees can be more fatherly than others. Fatherly or not, a little respect and consideration will go a long way in pleasing your female customers. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or invent a new business plan, just be nice and give her the benefit of the doubt.

To assist women doing their own repairs, Bridgestone-Firestone, Jiffy Lube and Road & Travel all offer online “maintenance shops” where women can learn automotive maintenance from the vantage of their computer desk.

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