Brit was on the road the other day and, having arrived home safely, emailed to tell me – amongst other more admin-related things – how the WH Smiths at the motorway services was infested with single men. They were loitering around the magazine racks. Furtive, heads down, not making eye contact.
I was able to reassure him that nothing untoward was going on. The explanation is, however, to be found in the realm of sex.
Men tend to have a goal-directed and functional approach to shopping: in and out as quickly as possible and with a minimum of fuss. Women have a more recreational approach: the experience is enjoyable in itself.
There are, however, five areas where men shop like women: tools, technology, booze, cars and, more surprisingly, magazines. In the last, women shop exactly like men do in other areas: they know exactly which is ‘their’ title and just go and buy it. Men, however, tend to graze the glossy pastures: they browse, pick up, leaf through. Then do it again, cud-chewing as they go.
This is reflected in the layout of the magazine sections in places like WH Smith. The part containing golf, motoring, wine, computer and sailing titles is extensive and relatively spaciously laid out; the part with the women’s magazines is compact, streamlined and near the tills.
Someone with experience in magazine retailing once told me that his business referred to the men’s magazine section as ‘the library’. He said this was the more genteel term: in less couth parts of the trade it’s known as ‘the urinals’.
Anyway, it struck me that I shop almost exactly like the typical woman. I nip in and get my weekly with nary a browse. The only men’s category I might conceivably enjoy taking my time over is that of booze. No interest in the others at all. So I buy as quickly and as straightforwardly as possible and only when I have to.
On the other hand I love shopping at the butcher’s, fishmonger’s and greengrocer’s. And I’m not averse to a bit of clothes shopping. I draw the line at make-up, however. I borrow my wife’s.