India Knowledge @wharton | Bridging the aisle divide

India Knowledge @wharton | Bridging the aisle divide

When it comes to shopping, women are happy to meander through sprawling clothing and accessory collections, or detour through the shoe department. But for men, shopping is a mission. They are out to buy a targeted item and flee the store as quickly as possible, according to new research.

In a study, Men Buy, Women Shop, researchers at Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative and the Verde Group, a Toronto consulting firm, found that women react more strongly than men to personal interaction with sales associates, whereas men are more likely to respond to more utilitarian aspects of the experience. The study is based on a random, national sample of 1,250 shoppers who were asked about a shopping experience in telephone interviews conducted from 20 October to 4 November. The sample was dominated, two to one, by females.

For women, “lack of help when needed" was the top problem cited (29%). It is also the likeliest reason stores lose the business of women shoppers. Indeed, according to an analysis of the study’s data, about 6% of all female shoppers could be lost to stores due to lack of sales help. Men, however, ranked “difficulty in finding parking close to the store’s entrance" as the No. 1 problem (also 29%). The problem most likely to result in lost business from men is if the product they came to buy is out of stock; about 5% of all male shoppers could be lost to stores for this reason.

According to Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch, the study, along with other Baker research, indicates that sales associates are critical to retail operations because employees are one way in which competitors can differentiate themselves from one another to gain market share. “It’s hard to do anything about parking, or the mall being too crowded, but they can do things about the sales associates," he notes. “What I found interesting is how women tend to be more focused on people, while men act almost as if they are dealing with an ATM machine. In fact, they want to deal with an ATM machine. They really don’t want to deal with a person."

Firms must develop people so that their skills improve

The recent departures of two of the world’s most prominent chief executives in the wake of major financial losses at their firms —Stanley O’Neal of Merrill Lynch and Charles Prince of Citigroup—have focused renewed attention on an important but often neglected component of corporate management: succession planning.

According to Wharton faculty members, in cases like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, where boards are concerned with signalling a fresh start, hiring CEO successors from the outside isn’t a surprising move. But, they say, companies are increasingly looking to fill top spots with external candidates, while placing less emphasis on grooming employees to fill those roles.

“The trend line from 1970 to 2000 shows a slow but steady increase in the number of companies that look to the outside in the case of a departing CEO," says Wharton management professor Michael Useem, director of the school’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. “At the start of that period, one in seven new CEOs at major companies came from outside the firm; by the end, one in four."

According to Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli, a survey of CEOs at large companies found that only 25% had any kind of talent planning past two levels below the CEO—i.e., below the senior vice-president level. It is not that companies have abandoned succession planning and other practices and moved to new approaches, he says. Instead, firms appear to have abandoned the systematic management of talent.

Ideally, Cappelli adds, it is not necessary for firms to groom specific people to become CEOs—or, indeed, for any other specific position. It is best for companies simply to develop people so that their skills continue to improve.

“I don’t think the idea ought to be to develop people for a particular job," Cappelli says, “because the odds of using them in that way are pretty small. Both the person and the job have to be lined up too exactly for that to happen. Boards of directors ought to be developing people who can fill the executive vice-president jobs because there’s some chance those appointments could be internal. Boards also ought to be developing general managers because CEOs sometimes come out of that experience."

Everyday economics: using incentives for a better life

Tyler Cowen wants to help you live a richer, more rewarding life—and no, he’s not an executive coach, televangelist or diet guru. Rather, he is the latest in a series of economists applying academic insights to everyday life. In his new book, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist (Dutton Adult), Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, argues that by understanding the power of incentives—that people respond to rewards and penalties—you can better accomplish your goals.

In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Cowen noted that employers often put too much stress on salary as an incentive, whereas they should place more of an emphasis on “allowing people to feel more in control of their destiny…. If people cooperate among themselves in a decentralized atmosphere, they often find ways of doing things that are more effective."

Bonuses, he added, “need to be accompanied with the right signals…. They are an act of social theatre. People have to understand why they received (one), and what it means in terms of their broader status in the workplace."

And what about the dentist? Find a mutual interest to discuss, bring in a holiday gift, or send a thank-you note, Cowen advised. “You have to motivate them. They don’t treat all their patients the same way. They’re not always inspired. They’re not always equally careful to minimize pain... Just by thinking about it at all, you’ll probably get better treatment."

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