Breaking: Men Shop Like Everyone Else

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A shocking new study from WSL Strategic Retail reveals that men sometimes use coupons to buy things. Feel free to sit down, get a glass of water, and collect yourself before you come back. Maybe have a snack, too. The company interpreted its results as being indicative of a new kind of man, one rising from the commercial ashes of Generation Y. Theories to the shift -- if there really is a shift -- abound, but the bottom line is that men shop the sales.

Deals and more deals
The new study found that 63% of men actively look for sales in stores -- I'm unclear on what the other 37% do -- and 53% use coupons. WSL had a few possible explanations, including that this new generation of men "grew up with significantly more places to shop and tools to choose from, and they are part of a culture that shares shopping responsibilities with their working wives." The combination of working wives and growing up in a retail-heavy environment -- think: Mallrats-- means today's men are on the lookout for deals.

Online retailers aren't shocked. A multiyear depressed economy meant that all consumers started looking for more ways to save. RetailMeNot pointed out that economic conditions meant "men wanted to save just as much as anyone." 

What men mean
That combination of promotion and more men shopping has spurred two major shifts in the general retail economy. Women-focused companies such as Coach (NYSE: COH  ) and Michael Kors (NYSE: KORS  ) have recently made a move into the menswear world. Coach is already under margin pressure, and the company had a 2-percentage-point drop in operating margin last quarter. Kors is having better luck, with its operating margin rising.

Nonetheless, both companies seem to have missed the biggest declines that have plagued the retail sector over the past months. With consumers shifting their focus from clothing and other small retail goods to home improvement and cars, apparel retailers have been hurting.

Even traditionally strong brands like Buckle (NYSE: BKE  ) have felt the pinch. August comparable sales rose just 1% from 2012. Compare that to the 4.5% increase Buckle put up in year-over-year growth for August 2012, and you can see the impact. Top that off with Buckle's excellent management team and strong financial position -- the company has no long-term debt -- and it becomes clear that the downturn is affecting good companies, too.

Hoping to dodge a similar fate, Coach and Kors are trying to break into new demographic opportunities. Increasing offerings for men has driven both companies recently. Coach has had trouble managing both its core business and men's, though, and the overall strength of the business has suffered. It may be falling prey to the promotional environment.

Kors has yet to fully immerse itself in the men's business, and investors will be looking for proof in the coming quarter that the business can keep up its incredible growth rate. In the last earnings call, management referred to men's as "a very significant opportunity for [the] company." Based on men's spending patterns, it's yet to be seen if that's an opportunity for success or failure.

Other options for growth
While some companies are trying to expand their consumer base, others are focusing on new ways of interacting with customers. The retail space is in the midst of one of the biggest shifts in consumer interaction since mail order took off at the turn of last century. Only those most forward-looking and capable companies will survive, and they'll handsomely reward those investors who understand the landscape. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's free special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.

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