I love the National Geographic Channel and its focus on wildlife. For some reason, I’m particularly drawn to how different species choose mates and the lengths to which they will go, from the plumes of feathers on a peacock to the amount of light a firefly will use to attract the opposite sex. I’m even more fascinated by the sheer number of similarities between us humans and the animal kingdom.
On a recent trip to Ross Park Mall, a female friend dragged me into Sephora for a time she described as “quickly”, which made me realize that the she might not know the definition of the term. While initially nerve-wracking, I decided to make this my own personal National Geographic special, using the experience to analyze how products were packaged and displayed, how lower-end products compared to premium products and what design theories were used to appeal to women. While I started in an area with a bunch of boxes and bottles, I ended up in a section with various items that resembled miniature lawn equipment, much of which made me realize that I am much less likely to injure myself using a table saw than an eyelash curler (Really? An Eyelash Curler? That’s necessary why?).
The entire experience went from fascinating to traumatizing when I came upon a box with this grooming machine that included three different attachments. I looked at the first one, which looked much like the trimmer you’d find on the back of an electric razor — that’s not so bad. Next down was a tool that looked just like an electric razor with little holes to cut hair — that was just a mini Norelco razor. Finally, I got to this dangerous shark-toothed looking thing. I looked at it, tilted my head like a beagle hearing a harmonica for the first time, and tried to figure out what the hell an “epilator” was. Then it hit me. Completely by reaction, I hunched over a little bit and protected certain areas of my anatomy, subconsciously afraid that the damn thing would jump out of and attack my nether regions. I also made a very loud oomph/ouch sound, causing my friend and two sales associated to run over to make sure I was ok. They found me standing there, completely blown away that anyone would use such a disturbing device. While they were laughing, I was still in shock. I believe I’m now one of the first diagnosed cases of epilatorphobia.
The lesson learned, beyond the fact that I will never feel entirely safe being in the same room as that devil machine, is that men and women really do have completely different shopping experiences and expectations. There was a shocking amount of white used in graphic design, as well as pastels (compared to the blues/browns/darker neutrals found in men’s products). I also saw a loose correlation between product shape and price — the more unique and feminine the shape of the bottle, the higher premium on the product. Another observation involved typography — while men’s products usually feature bold/black fonts, most of the products in Sephora used type that was thin or ultra-thin. Finally, I realized the motivation women have to achieve beauty is beyond what I had ever expected before (I’m an only child with a decidedly non-girly mom who has usually dated women who could get ready in 20 minutes or less). The point? For this category of woman, appeal to the need to be beautiful, make the packaging as much of an experience as possible, market the product in a way that it feels luxurious and price it such that the product feels rare (now with “hydrokryptocyanide!”) rather than eerily similar to what is in a Suave bottle in Giant Eagle. While it is a very crowded market, there seems to be a niche for a multitude of similar products — invoke those feelings of beauty and exclusivity, and you’ll carve out a niche.