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The Big Question

Erik Gordon, a marketing professor in Johns Hopkins' School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, has conducted marketing research for American Express and the National Retail Federation Foundation. For many years, he has conducted an annual survey of holiday shopping. He once bought his wife a steam iron for her birthday.
Photo by Mike Ciesielski

Q: Q: Have You Finished Your Holiday Shopping Yet?
A: "Like most men, I haven't even thought about starting shopping. And I won't start thinking about it until about December 23.

"Shopping is a source of great anxiety for men because we never really know what to get, and we don't know where to get it. Shopping to us means social danger, so we put it off. Women, however, often know what to buy people because they listen to people. They listen to people all year long. If my wife and I are at a party in April and she overhears me say to another guy, 'Gee, I kind of need a new wristwatch,' my wife will remember that. And some time between April and August, which is when she's done with her Christmas shopping, she'll find the perfect watch for me because she will have looked in 20 stores and at approximately 3,200 watches.

"As opposed to me. My wife could hint to me starting in April that she wants a particular kind of bracelet — from subtle hints to telling me three or four times, 'The one thing I would like this year is that kind of bracelet.' And on December 23 I'm going to go into the store and think, What am I going to get my wife? Maybe she'd like a purple sweater....

"Time-series research bears this out. Early in the holiday shopping season, what you find is that women have a much higher proportion of their shopping done in the first one or two rounds of your research, and men have almost none of it done. When you get to the later rounds, the women haven't stopped shopping — they're always looking for just one more thing — but the heavy lifting is over for them. The men are just getting going. The pattern is so clear: The women peak early, the men panic late.

"Usually I wouldn't touch gender comparison with a 10-foot pole. The only reason you can touch this one without fear of getting shot by everybody is, first, there's a lot of research that backs it up, and second, everybody has experienced it. So instead of shooting you, they have to kind of smile."

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