Let's pretend you just tested out a new soap, and were pretty pleased with the results. Not only did your skin feel fresh afterward, but it left you smelling good hours later.
Now, how many bars of this particular soap will you buy? Just one to tide you over? Or maybe a dozen so you don't run out?
As it turns out, the way you answer could depend on your gender.
When subscription beauty service Birchbox started selling men's sample boxes three years ago, the company's founders quickly learned there are certain shopping habits that distinguish men from women.
Whereas females would test samples that the company sent them in the mail—sometimes purchasing a full-size version of an item they really liked—men would immediately snatch up six to a dozen versions of the same thing.
Birchbox was so unaccustomed to such buying behavior that its website started to code the orders as fraudulent.
"[Men] were buying something that they liked, and they weren't just buying one of it," said Katia Beauchamp, one of Birchbox's co-founders. "The guys in our office were like, 'No, no, no, that's how we buy soap.' "
Though Birchbox's case study may err on the extreme, it's just one of a flurry of ways in which men approach shopping differently than women. For a more basic understanding, next time you're at the mall, take a quick scan of your fellow shoppers.
Odds are, you'll spot one or two "lone wolves," the term Fashion Institute of Technology associate professor Vincent Quan uses to describe men who are out shopping on their own.
Women, on the other hand, view going to the mall as more of a social event, and are therefore more likely to move in flocks. Even when they're alone, Quan said, many of his female students have admitted to turning their outing into a social event by sending a Snapchat of their outfit to friends before deciding whether to buy it.
"You won't find me doing that," he laughed.
Along those lines, a recent study by Interactions marketing confirmed what many have long suspected: Women are more likely to browse at their leisure, making them an optimal target for impulse purchases. But on the contrary, when they're on the hunt for a particular item, they tend to be more determined to find it than men.
According to Quan, women are more likely to search for a replacement product if they didn't find exactly what they were looking for at the onset.
"Most men are destination shoppers," he said. "They are looking for something specific [and] make a beeline. [They think] 'If I don't find it, maybe I'll look for something similar, but I probably won't spend much time.'"
When it comes to online shopping, however, women are typically less committed to purchasing all of the items that they placed in their shopping carts. Jumio's latest Mobile Consumer Insights Study found that 68 percent of women have abandoned a clothing or apparel purchase on a mobile device, compared to just 51 percent for men.
"Women ... tend to enjoy the shopping experience as an end unto itself," said Marc Barach, Jumio's chief marketing and strategy officer. "In that instance, we tend to place numerous items in a shopping cart … to be culled down and eventually purchased."
Interactions' study found that men are also more likely to read all of the product information before purchasing an item.
This is a trend that men's shopping app Curatum, which hand picks one daily item for each of its shoppers, is keying into. The platform's simple-to-navigate interface allows men to learn more about each item, or read why the curator from one of its fashion boutique partners selected a certain piece.
"Men like to read," said founder and CEO Khalid Meniri, who has worked with brands including Tommy Hilfiger and Elizabeth Arden on their digital platforms.
"They want a simple way to discover and buy the best products available."
Items on the Curatum app, which targets male shoppers with an annual income of $150,000 or higher, range from a $10 set of leather pencils to a $135,000 time piece. Each shopper receives his own recommended item each day—based on factors including the weather forecast or their past behavior—and they can also browse the platform for additional items.
At Birchbox, Beauchamp identified a similar willingness to learn when men first approached her business. She attributed part of this trend to the fact that prestige beauty is still a new category for men, so "they're a little bit more in for the 'Tell me what this is.' "
"There's something really powerful about Birchbox, which is anonymous in a way," she said. "You really don't have to do any of the work…. We describe it as caring, but you don't have to care so much or show the whole world that you care."