Is there a big difference in how women and men make furniture and bedding
purchase decisions? WomenCertified’s Chief Mission Officer believes there
Delia Passi recently shared her thoughts with Furniture World about the
differences between how male and female shoppers, on average, want to be
treated when purchasing home furnishings. Passi is an authority on marketing
to women and couples. She’s the author of “Winning the Toughest Customer:
The Essential Guide to Selling to Women,” and the founder of WomenCertified
Inc., producer of the Women’s Choice Award.
Her path to becoming the founder and chief mission officer of WomenCertified
Inc., began when, as the publisher of Passi Publications, she had the good
fortune to shadow one of her top salespeople.
“We were pitching a million-dollar ad program to a team from AT&T comprised
of two women and one man,” she recalled. “When I heard buying signals from
the man, I was ready to jump in, start closing and get them to sign a
contract. My colleague motioned to me to stay quiet. At this point, she
suggested to the group, ‘Before closing, let’s ensure everyone’s comfortable
before we proceed with this deal. How about we go out for lunch next
“’Are you kidding?’ I asked her after the meeting. They would have signed
that contract.’ ‘Yeah,’ she replied, ‘but you may not have noticed that the
women in the meeting haven’t yet bought into our program. My job is to get
them to buy wholeheartedly so they’ll embrace this deal and renew ten months
from now.’ That’s when I realized that selling to men differs from selling
“The man in the AT&T meeting was interested in getting the deal done. For
the women executives, the process was the game. Building trust with women
takes time, and salespeople who understand how to build trust increase their
returns tenfold. Men tend to be more price- or service-sensitive. They want
to get what they need when they need it. Women are often more committed,
patient and forgiving once a solid relationship is established.”
Passi subsequently sold her publishing company to publicly traded Group
Seven, and then joined Working Mother and Working Woman magazines as
publisher of that $100-million company.
In 2006, Passi teamed up with the Wharton School to do the first-ever
gender-based customer experience study on how men and women buy. That
research became the foundation for her book and the new WomenCertified Inc.
company she founded.
Before sharing more insights about selling to women, she explained that
WomenCertified Inc. produces the Women’s Choice Award. “The award,” she
explained, “was created to do research for female consumers. We rank, rate
and vet brands. Those that meet a high standard of customer recommendation
ratings and thresholds get to carry the Women’s Choice Award or be named by
us on womenschoiceaward.com. Some companies recognized in 2023 were
Restonic, Purecare, Serta, Spring Air, Armstrong Flooring, Intellibed,
Leathermaster, Levolor and Reverie. Companies don’t pay to get named by us.
Our mission is to empower women to make good choices.”
Ratings & Reviews
Furniture World asked her why female customers don’t just rely on other
available published product ratings and reviews. She replied, “Star ratings
and reviews have become a critical part of the buying process. Very few
people will buy a product that doesn’t have a rating associated with it. The
problem is that when people sort by four stars and above, they can still see
hundreds of products. At that point, it’s a matter of what makes them choose
one over another. Especially for big-ticket items like furniture and
mattresses that need to last a long time, people feel they need to do a lot
of research on their own.
“That’s why it’s helpful to have another level of validation via trusted
third-party sources such as family, friends, a salesperson or an influencer.
Their decision can also be influenced by seeing something as simple as the
Women’s Choice Award seal that lets them know the research has already been
done for them.”
Passi noted that when entering most mattress and furniture stores, consumers
can get confused by all the similarities and choices.
“Validation can come from a price point, ticking pattern, color, warranty,
or a comfort test. But often, buying decisions are made when something
triggers an emotional connection. Most of the time, a subconscious trigger
will fulfill a personal buying need and make an item being considered feel
right. The Women’s Choice Award seal on a product can be a trigger that lets
women know they don’t have to look further.”
On The Sales Floor
Showcase & Reward Performance!
Some of the following suggestions for sales associates and their managers
may seem like common sense to many Furniture World readers, especially in an
industry that has long viewed women as the primary decision-makers for
furniture and bedding.
The truth, Passi explained, is that some salespeople are still unaware that
the subtle ways they interact with women on retail floors hurt their sales
numbers. It’s also misaligned with most furniture retailers’ stated missions
to improve their customers’ lives, help them create beautiful homes and
treat them as members of the family.
When asked if there is an effective way, other than dismissal, to change the
mindset of a salesperson who is stuck in a 1950s mentality or needs coaching
after being named in an unfavorable review, Passi replied “Not always, but
suggesting little tips such as giving a bit more eye contact, pausing before
interrupting, slowing it down and other techniques are sometimes things
they’re willing to do to improve sales results.”
Diverse Communities: “Onboarding salespeople should include
information on community traditions and preferences. Without this training,
salespeople can unintentionally show disrespect to women. This training is a
must for stores that operate in diverse communities.”
Eye Contact: “Let’s imagine,” she continued, “that a man
and woman visit a store to shop for a sofa. He’s a talker who likes to take
the lead. The salesperson converses primarily with him, even though he knows
that women are almost always major decision-makers or influencers. Having
been left out of the sales conversation, the woman might feel that the
salesperson didn’t consider her important enough to engage with. Then, after
the couple leaves without buying, the salesperson tells himself they were
never serious about buying.
“The takeaway from this story is that men don’t typically notice when
salespeople give more eye contact to a female partner, but women do notice
if a man gets more eye contact. When a couple comes in, give them equal
attention. Never interrupt any shopper who is speaking, especially a female
shopper. Instead, pause for five seconds. Most salespeople have a tough time
doing that, but it’s essential to emphasize that she’s being listened to.”
Mirroring: “Mirroring by confirming what she said is a
time-tested technique that works especially well with women shoppers. For
example, say ‘Here are the three things you must have. Did I get that
right?’ If she uses words like sustainable, mirror that term as well. Let
them know you carry a line known for their sustainable products.”
Think About It: “When women say they want time to think
about a purchase, don’t automatically offer a better price or sweeten the
deal with some added service. Instead, ask ‘What can I do today to help you
move forward with this purchase?’ or ‘It sounds like you’re interested in
this item. What can I do to help you make your decision?’ It’s generally a
more effective approach than going for the hard sell.”
“A bit more eye contact, pausing before interrupting, slowing it down and
other techniques are sometimes things they’re willing to do to improve sales
Time and Space: “Reflect on what’s important to her; don’t
make assumptions. It’s a mistake to stereotype women as a group. Having said
that, our research shows,“ Passi noted, “that women tend more than men to
see shopping as an activity, whereas men see it as a chore. Selling to women
can require more patience and may take a little longer. Give them time and
space to think, but never get so far away that they can’t easily ask
Passi explained that retail management can help smooth the way for
salespeople by prototyping target groups of shoppers to help them understand
likely purchase triggers for a baby boomer mom or perhaps a more mature,
“Often, salespeople who take a bit longer to get to know women shoppers at
the beginning of the sales process close quicker and with fewer objections
toward the end.”
Passi, who does a lot of customer service training, suggested that “customer
service reps might use a technique, known as cushioning, which is just a way
to be or seem more empathetic. It includes acknowledging a woman’s reason
for seeking customer service by saying, ‘I can understand why that would
concern you’ or ‘I can see why that would upset you.’ This language tends to
calm people. When someone gets angry or anxious, stress hormone levels
become elevated. Showing that you understand is conflict avoidance 101.
“When cushioning is appropriately done, customers are more willing to listen
and resolve problems.”
Furniture World asked if women tend to relate better to women than men when
shopping for home furnishings.
“That’s not as important as you might think,” she replied. “Most female
shoppers say they don’t prefer working with female salespeople. They just
want to work with people who will treat them the way they want to be
treated. They may initially be a little more open to working with a female
salesperson from a relationship perspective, but that depends on the
individual salesperson. Ultimately, it’s more about how well someone listens
and appears interested in her concerns. Often, salespeople who take a bit
longer to get to know women shoppers at the beginning of the sales process
close quicker and with fewer objections toward the end.”
Advertising & Signage
Furniture World asked if there are do’s, don’ts or red flags regarding
advertising to women.
“It’s easy to market to women based on generalities and play it safe,” Passi
said. “But connecting requires creating messaging that gets her excited.
Consider what happened to football when Taylor Swift recently showed up at a
football game. It changed the conversation and created a different value
proposition. Buyer motivations and the nature of conversations between
brands and customers can change with the news cycle.
“Digital ad messaging should be highly targeted by directing messages to
specific customer groups with different personas. That requires doing some
research, which doesn’t mean convening a focus group of one. Marketing
decisions shouldn’t be made by men sitting around the table reviewing ad
text and layouts.
“WomenCertified helps manufacturing brands and retailers do research with
what we call the ‘SHE Survey.’ It’s a simple 10- to 15-question customer
survey. Retailers can do something similar by emailing targeted lists of
customers, and asking them to respond in exchange for a coupon or similar
reward. However, my experience is that companies often ask questions that
get them the answers they are looking for. It takes a lot of thought and
experience to write survey questions that yield real insights vs.
“There are a lot of marketing triggers that can lead to a sale.” Passi
continued. “Price point is always a strong consideration for furniture
retailers. It’s one of many factors which lead women shoppers to think they
will get greater value. When the value exceeds the cost, people buy.
Examining value propositions presented in ad copy is something every retail
marketer should do if they want to develop messaging that is likely to
trigger a conversation with women shoppers.
“Good signage is important for any customer, especially women. Research
using heat mapping that measured where women’s eyes go when looking at ads
shows that color, images of people, pets and the Women’s Choice Award seal
were hot spots within the ads and websites. Signage that includes a powerful
offer on certain products can also be highly effective.”
Follow-Up & Service Calls
“Women like to help other women. When doing post-sale follow-up, ask them if
they know people who might benefit from hearing about your store’s programs,
sales and products. Use ‘benefit’ instead of ‘recommend’ because it implies
you want to help rather than infringe on people’s privacy.
“Always be courteous and ask permission. When making house calls, for
example, ask if they would be more comfortable if shoes were removed or
masks were worn.”
It’s no surprise to anyone in the home furnishings industry that approaching
people where, when and how they want to be approached is paramount to
retailing success. That’s why it’s important to consider the differences
between customer groups, then create sales and marketing triggers that best
attract, engage and close sales most effectively.