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The separation of the sexes in sneaker stores

August 22, 2021 9:00 AM
The separation of the sexes in sneaker stores

Men's and women's sneakers are traditionally offered separately in stores because it is believed that this is the most efficient way to make shopping easier for customers. However, with an inclusive approach to sneakers gaining popularity and public discourse in recent years, today we discuss gender segregation in sneaker stores.

Shops like OFF-Spring and SNS as well as sneaker boutiques sometimes just don't have gender-specific segments and instead take a unisex approach. This is more inclusive, but it can make shopping more difficult and confusing. So what now and how now?

The main problem with women's departments in shoe shops is that they are usually smaller than men's displays and (have to) share sales space with the children's range. Among other things, this can frustrate and disappoint. In shops where there is (still) no WMNS department, the dilemma is avoided altogether, but is that a good thing?

Geschlechtertrennung in Sneakerstores
Saskia van Hofwegen is the founder and owner of the Maha Store in Amsterdam. The store offers fashion exclusively for women.
(Photo: Sneakerjagers)

Pros, cons and the golden mean

Dear Sneakerjagers, what do you think about this? In my opinion, this is a very ambivalent topic. On the one hand, it has to be seen from the point of view of the brands and retailers, who - as we know and understand - want to do a good business and thus make a lot of sales. On the other hand, we as consumers can also consider what we want for a better shopping experience.

Since I'm a fan of metaphors, let's spin the wheel a little further. After all, sneaker stores are the reincarnation of our sneaker world, so to speak, and thus more than just sales areas. They symbolise a meeting place for enthusiasts and like-minded people, are a hub for exchange and inspiration and a catalyst for creativity.

Accordingly, it can be argued that they are emblematic of the scene itself. Emblematic of the struggle for unisex models, inclusive sizing and an equal voice for women and non-binary people when it comes to sneakers, but fundamentally also in everyday life.

Of course, one has to bear in mind that fashion is subjectively dominated by women anyway. Many men also complain that most retailers, apart from sneaker stores, have a much larger women's department than the men's department. With sneakers - and really only with sneakers - it's the other way around, but is that a good thing?

Gender-specific purchasing behaviour: Female collectors and hunters

Shopping is simply more fun for women, explains the Nürnberg Institut für Marktentscheidungen e.V. in an article published in 2012. Like everything in our lives, this goes back to human evolution. According to Kruger and Byker in their 2009 study, women were the gatherers and men were the hunters. Furthermore, women were responsible for the secure provision of the family or other people in the community over a longer period of time, while men only hunted when there was a need.

If we transfer the learned gender-specific habits to today, we recognise, generalising, that women still collect today. They go shopping more often and check the characteristics of the goods by comparing them. Accordingly, they also respond particularly to (seasonal) special offers and see shopping as a social activity, while men shop quickly and in a goal-oriented manner.

Geschlechtertrennung in Sneakerstores
The male and female purchase decision process.
(Figure: Barletta 2006: 41 in Rennhak/Nufer 2010)

Does that also apply to male sneakerheads? At least the goal orientation, what do you think? Or maybe that's why there are even more male sneaker collectors who snatch up the shoe of their desire quickly and purposefully?

Moreover, we have to discuss how relevant the physical sneaker store still is at all and buyers don't rather buy their products online. But of course, the gender divide also exists online. Overall, the European trend increases from 2015 and 13% who ordered online more than ten times in the last three months to 15% in 2017. For women, it increased from 11% to 14% in the same period. Sporting goods and clothing topped both tables. Ultimately, however, fewer young people, i.e. those aged 25-44, order online (2019).

Gender marketing

Gender marketing has been known in the USA since the 1990s and many companies have successfully implemented it there. In Germany, on the other hand, gender-specific requirements for marketing only began to be made at the beginning of the 2000s.

It is obvious that men and women are different and therefore act differently. That is why there is gender marketing, which can be an "important challenge for the future and […] furthermore a decisive differentiating feature in competition", formulate Rennhak and Nufer 2010 in their gender marketing study.

Phew, in an industry that is changing so fast, a ten-year-old study is definitely just that: outdated. But we are only touching on what cannot be summarised in a few words.

Nevertheless, it remains exciting to think about how brands strategically assign functional, aesthetic and personalised characteristics to their products. Somehow this shouldn't surprise us any more.

"Walking through grocery shops, stationery shops and drugstores with their differently gendered products raises questions: Do women write more floridly than men? Do lighters burn more gently for women? Do men only like to iron in black and do women prefer to use small instead of large cordless screwdrivers? Is shaving a man different from shaving a woman?

Antonia Wagner, 2018, in POP. Kultur und Kritik (13)

Is it different with sneakers? The trend is definitely away from gender marketing. But if you look at the clear distribution of roles in targeting, you notice that the advertising of large companies still addresses individual genders.

Our Sneakerjagers Tommy Triggah thinks the gender split is quite lucrative for brands and retailers. Two divisions, two releases, potentially two profits.

What does the Sneakerjagers Office think?

Opinions in our office also differ greatly. While some would prefer a unisex department, others see no problem in separation. Aïcha feels that 'Gender Neutral Movement' is important, but a division into different departments in the stores is not necessary.

Geschlechtertrennung in Sneakerstores Meinung
Geschlechtertrennung in Sneakerstores Meinung
Dion in our Sneakerjagers Sweater

Dion, who is responsible for the release calendar, sees the reason for the division in the different colours and also the commercial benefit for retailers to keep it as it is.

Our SEO expert Claire prefers the split offer in the physical stores. After all, they wouldn't be exclusive to each gender. "I just wear a shoe," she says. There would be no differentiation. It doesn't matter if it's a man, a woman or a penguin. But when it comes to online shops, she disagrees. She doesn't like to switch between women and men, but would like to have one page for everything. Laziness is the reason.

Tommy, our brand manager, is torn, as is Sneaker Steve. Both are realistic and personally have no problems with the gender divide. Tommy wears a 43, which means he can find a new sneaker in either department anyway.

However, Steve sees the future in a unisex department. He justifies his assumption by saying that so much has already happened in the last five years and that the discussion about gender continues to drive this development in all areas.

Nikki looks after our Sneakerjagers WMNS channel on Instagram. She also works at Solebox in Utrecht. The gender signs were taken down there some time ago and all customers now simply make their rounds in the store. After all, for Nikki, a larger selection of sneakers also means potentially more sales, which she sees as positive.

A final word: it remains worth discussing

Maren, our Germany boss, also has an ambivalent view of the topic. Many of the arguments in the article reflect her opinion. Personally, she hasn't been bothered by it yet, but on reflection she finds it somewhat problematic that women usually only have half the space that is allotted to men. From this point of view, she would prefer a completely unisex range, especially because sneakers are often just for everyone and should be! In addition, the women's department would often be combined with the children's department. Why?

Ultimately, you can say that there is no right or wrong way. It all depends on the business, what it sells, the target group and the location. It is also about the further liberalisation of society. Women wearing men's clothes, men wearing women's clothes, people simply wearing what they want. So why not try out and explore all the options?