On Women’s Confidence as Consumers

They are not quite as confident (or overconfident) as men when it comes to making major purchase decisions. But a poll released this month finds women increasingly comfortable when deciding on big-ticket items, even in historically male-dominated sectors like cars and technology.

In polling conducted for NBC Universal by GfK Roper in August and September, 79 percent of women said they feel confident when it comes to decisions about buying a computer-up from 67 percent saying so in a 2000 GfK poll for Virginia Slims. There was a similar rise (from 63 percent to 79 percent) in the number saying they’re confident about negotiating to buy a car.

There were smaller gains in the numbers of women confident in deciding on a home mortgage (from 72 percent to 76 percent) and on “how to save your money” (from 83 percent to 90 percent). Seventy-nine percent said they’re confident when deciding about a “big-ticket consumer-electronics purchase, such as a big-screen TV,” a topic not covered by the earlier survey.

Perhaps more surprising than women’s growing confidence is their sense of being taken seriously by the people who sell big-ticket items, even if there’s some variation among sectors. Eighty-three percent said they feel they’re taken seriously when obtaining a mortgage to buy a home. Large majorities said they feel the same when buying a computer (82 percent), buying big-ticket consumer electronics (80 percent) or negotiating to buy a car (76 percent). Apparently the cliche of the car dealer who expects “the little lady” to care about nothing more than the color of the upholstery is ready for the scrap yard. One other surprise: In most product and service categories, the survey’s working women were not significantly more likely than women in general to say they feel they’re taken seriously when making purchase decisions.

Unattached women have little choice but to take on these decision-making roles. Even among married women in the survey sample, though, large majorities said they at least share the responsibility for decisions about investments (79 percent), travel (91 percent), buying a computer (75 percent) and buying a car (76 percent).