IT'S TIME TO OFFER FEMALE-FRIENDLY SHOPPING

Women love to shop. Lots of men do, too, but the two genders have very different opinions about what constitutes an enjoyable shopping experience.Women enjoy a little ambience, and they appreciate displays that have a little flourish. They generally don't like shopping in supermarkets, which often bear closer resemblance to Home Depot than they do to Bath & Body Works.Now the time may be ripe for

Women love to shop. Lots of men do, too, but the two genders have very different opinions about what constitutes an enjoyable shopping experience.

Women enjoy a little ambience, and they appreciate displays that have a little flourish. They generally don't like shopping in supermarkets, which often bear closer resemblance to Home Depot than they do to Bath & Body Works.

Now the time may be ripe for supermarket executives to consider making some changes to their stores -- and to their health and beauty care departments in particular -- to make them more amenable destinations for female shoppers.

Many supermarkets have long considered the HBC department to be a convenience for consumers who, for example, might have forgotten to buy lipstick on their last trip to the drug store. Grocery stores often price personal care and beauty care products high and pay little attention to the way they are merchandised, leaving drug stores and mass merchandisers to reap the bulk of the HBC business.

However, as mass merchants continue their incursions into the grocery arena, more and more women could also be inclined to pick up some of their groceries while they are at Wal-Mart or Kmart stocking up on low-priced shampoo, toothpaste and other HBC supplies.

That was the warning issued in a recent report by the General Merchandise Distributors Council, Colorado Springs, Colo., which is hosting its annual HBC conference in Palm Desert, Calif., this week. The report, conducted for GMDC by MarketHealth, Libertyville, Ill., concluded that supermarkets stand to gain by capitalizing on "women's well-being," which can be viewed as a refinement of the whole-health concept.

By paying more attention to the way personal care and beauty care products are merchandised -- using wooden fixtures to display bath products, for example -- and keeping prices as low as possible on HBC staples, supermarkets can become destinations for women seeking those items, the report concludes.

Bob Kowalski, vice president of marketing at Kowalski Co., St. Paul, Minn., one of the retailers who participated in the GMDC study, recently told SN that offering competitive prices on HBC items is simply a matter of "buying right."

"Grocery stores don't need to give away those categories any more," he said, citing his own store in Woodbury, Minn., as an example of a successful, female-friendly destination.

Other examples include a Giant Food store in Fairfax, Va., that recently revamped its entire HBC department to make it easier to shop. The section is set off from the rest of the store with distinct music, signage and merchandising that also connect it to the pharmacy.

Through focus groups, the company found that women don't shop for HBC items the same way they shop for groceries, and the new prototype reflects that.

On Page 73 of this issue, reporter Stephanie Loughran details an effort by Albertson's to make ethnic beauty care a destination for local consumers at its new store in Dallas. In addition to a large selection of hair care products tailored to African-Americans, the store also staffs a beautician.

If supermarkets can take those kinds of extra steps in merchandising their HBC departments while lowering their prices on basic beauty care items, they stand to be well-positioned in the increasingly competitive market for all of their products.