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As a market, women represent a bigger opportunity than China and India combined. So why are companies doing such a poor job of serving them? As a market, women represent an opportunity bigger than China and India combined. Women drive the world economy, in fact.

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Yet most companies do a remarkably poor job of serving them, a new study by the Boston Consulting Group reveals. BCG surveyed more than 12, women from a variety of geographies, income levels, and walks of life about their education, finances, homes, jobs, activities, interests, relationships, hopes, and fears, as well as their shopping behaviors and spending patterns.

While any business would be wise to target female consumers, they say, the greatest potential lies in six industries: food, fitness, beauty, apparel, health care, and financial services. Most health clubs are expensive and deed for men, with lots of complicated body-building equipment.

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Curves, however, understood that time-pressed women needed quick, affordable workouts, and came up with the concept of simple, minute exercise routines geared to women and offered in no-frills spaces. Companies that likewise successfully tailor their offerings to women will be positioned to win when the economy begins to recover. In aggregate, women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined—more than twice as big, in fact. Given those s, it would be foolish to ignore or underestimate the female consumer. And yet many companies do just that, even ones that are confident they have a winning strategy when it comes to women.

The site emphasized colors, computer accessories, and tips for counting calories and finding recipes. Nine out of ten Victorian-age doctors agree. Most companies have much to learn about selling to women. In the Boston Consulting Group fielded a comprehensive study of how women felt about their work and their lives, and how they were being served by businesses. It turned out there was lots of room for improvement. More than 12, women, from more than 40 geographies and a variety of income levels and walks of life, responded to our survey.

They answered—often with disarming candor— questions about their education and finances, homes and possessions, jobs and careers, activities and interests, relationships, and hopes and fears, along with their shopping behavior and spending patterns in some three dozen of goods and services.

You can learn more about the survey and take an abridged version of it at www. We also conducted hundreds of interviews and studied women working in 50 organizations in 13 fields of endeavor. Despite the remarkable strides in market power and social position that they have made in the past century, they still appear to be undervalued in the marketplace and underestimated in the workplace. They have too many demands on their time and constantly juggle conflicting priorities—work, home, and family.

Few companies have responded to their need for time-saving solutions or for products and services deed specifically for them. Although women control spending in most of consumer goods, too many businesses behave as if they had no say over purchasing decisions. Companies continue to offer them poorly conceived products and services and outdated marketing narratives that promote female stereotypes. Look at the automotive industry. Cars are deed for speed—not utility, which is what really matters to women.

No SUV is built to accommodate a mother who needs to load two small children into it. Or consider a recent ad for Bounty paper towels, in which a husband and son stand by watching a spill cross the room, until Mom comes along and cheerfully cleans up the mess.

Meanwhile, women are increasingly gaining influencein the work world. As we write, the of working women in the United States is about to surpass the of working men. Three-quarters of the people who have lost jobs in the current recession are men. To be fair, women are still paid less, on average, than men, and are more likely to work part-time—factors that have helped insulate them somewhat from the crisis. Nevertheless, we believe that as this recession abates, women not only will represent one of the largest market opportunities in our lifetimes but also will be an important force in spurring a recovery and generating new prosperity.

These types, which are primarily defined by income, age, and stage of life, are fast-tracker, pressure cooker, relationship focused, managing on her own, fulfilled empty nester, and making ends meet. Few women fall into just one type.

Married fast-trackers with children, for instance, are likely at some point in their lives to also fall into the pressure cooker category. Any company would be wise to target female customers, but the greatest potential lies in six industries. Four are businesses where women are most likely to spend more or trade up: food, fitness, beauty, and apparel. The other two are businesses with which women have made their dissatisfaction very clear: financial services and health care.

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Food represents one of the largest opportunities. Favorite grocery stores among the women we surveyed included Whole Foods and Tesco. Though they appeal to different segments, the two chains have each developed a loyal following. Whole Foods has succeeded despite its high prices by targeting the demanding but well-to-do fast-trackers, who want high-quality meats and produce and a knowledgeable staff.

Tesco stores, which offer one-stop shopping for a wide range of household items, including books, furniture, and financial services, appeal to the time-strapped pressure cookers, who desire convenience. Fitness is also a big business. The U. About two-thirds of our survey respondents described themselves as overweight; what was until recently an American issue has become a global phenomenon. But while women say that their fitness is a priority, in reality it tends to take a backseat. When asked to prioritize the needs of spouses, children, parents, and themselves, nearly all women ranked their own needs second or third—which means they have trouble finding time to work out.

The challenge for companies is to make fitness more accessible to women. For instance, most health clubs are expensive and deed for men. They can feel more like nightclubs than fitness centers and are geared to bodybuilders. Generally, women are less interested in pumping themselves up than in shedding a few pounds, improving their cardiovascular health, and getting toned.

Bright lights, electronic music, sweaty men, and complicated equipment are often a turnoff. Curves has a very simple concept: cheap, fast exercise for women only, with no-frills spaces suited to middle-aged clients of average build. Beauty products and services promote a sense of emotional well-being in women. Those we talked with who spent a higher portion of their income on cosmetics felt more satisfied, successful, and powerful; they also reported lower levels of stress even if they worked longer hours.

But even so, women are fundamentally dissatisfied with beauty offerings, and the way the industry is evolving keeps them from spending as much as they might. Women are passionate about the industry and well represented in jobs at the entry level, but female employment drops off at the executive and senior leadership levels. Whereas shelves used to be lined with products whose sole purpose was to moisturize the skin, now there are formulas containing a variety of benefits, such as sun protection, skin plumping, and capillary strengthening—all deed to prevent, or at the very least disguise, aging.

One of the most successful new Olay products is its Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum, advertised as the next-best thing to cosmetic surgery. Banana Republic, a favorite retailer of the women in our survey, has won a loyal following by taking steps to solve the problem of fit, particularly for pants. It offers a variety of cuts to suit different figures, and sizes are consistent across the board.

By contrast, Express stores focused on style and color but failed to deliver a consistent fit. The costliness of clothing was another sore point for the women in our survey. Its stores offer inexpensive, fun, trendy clothes and, with a rapid turnover of stock, an element of surprise each time shoppers visit.

Women value the ability to buy a new outfit without breaking the bank. So are seven of the 11 board members. Few of the women we talked to during the course of our research actually needed new clothing. Most could get away with shopping once or twice a year just to replenish the basics.

But given that women say they are willing to spend extra to find clothing that really works for them, manufacturers and retailers can find plenty of untapped potential in the apparel market—if they listen carefully to what women want, seek new technologies that offer superior fabrication and color, and improve comfort and fit. Financial services wins the prize as the industry least sympathetic to women—and one in which companies stand to gain the most if they can change their approach. Yet women are still continually let down by the level of quality and service they get from financial companies, which p men to be their target customers.

Our survey respondents were scathing in their comments about financial institutions. They cited a lack of respect, poor advice, contradictory policies, one-size-fits-all forms, and a seemingly endless tangle of red tape that leaves them exhausted and annoyed. Consider just a few quotations from our interviews:. Overall, the markets for investment services and life insurance for women are wide open. Extraordinary amounts of money are up for grabs in the financial services business.

The most lucrative opportunities for companies arise at transition points like marriage, divorce, childbirth, and a job change, because women are most likely to make investment decisions around such events. Health care was a source of frustration for women in our survey—and for middle-aged respondents in particular.

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Women resoundingly reported dissatisfaction with their hospitals and doctors. More specifically, they were irritated by the amount of time they spent waiting for doctors and laband scheduling and keeping appointments for themselves and their families. Making matters worse, women generally pay ificantly more than men do for health insurance. Again, the opportunities for companies that do cater to women are enormous.

Together, they developed a three-step routine to help babies sleep better, consisting of bath, massage, and quiet time. Our research also showed that pressures change over time. Women are happiest in their early and later years and experience their lowest point in their early and mid forties. So this group is especially receptive to products and services that can help them better control their lives and balance their priorities.

When the dust from the economic crisis settles, we predict, women will occupy an even more important position in the economy and the world order than they now do. What might that economy look like? For one thing, women will represent an ever-larger proportion of the workforce. The of working women has been increasing by about 2. We expect an additional 90 million or so women to enter the workforce byperhaps even more as employment becomes a necessity. At nearly every major consumer company, most middle managers are women. Admittedly, the s are being skewed as small businesses position themselves for government contracts that favor female-owned companies.

Women seek to buy products and services from companies that do good for the world, especially for other women. Brands that—directly or indirectly—promote physical and emotional well-being, protect and preserve the environment, provide education and care for the needy, and encourage love and connection will benefit. And women are the customer. The financial crisis will come to an end, and now is the time to lay the foundation for postrecession growth.

You have 1 free article s left this month. You are reading your last free article for this month. Subscribe for unlimited access. Silverstein and Kate Sayre. A version of this article appeared in the September issue of Harvard Business Review. on Gender or related topics Customer experience and Marketing.

Michael J. Silverstein silverstein.

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