Men don't shop. As Paco Underhill, consumer trend watcher and author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Touchstone Books, 2000), puts it, “Men are from Sears Hardware, women are from Bloomingdale's.”

It's a cliché, one that has provided reams of material for standup comics over the years: Men dig the Three Stooges, giant robots and jukeboxes. Men don't talk, don't clean and don't shop.

But there's a problem with this cliché: It isn't really true. Although most men will stick to the script and claim that they just go into the store, get what they need, and get out, it is possible to find male shoppers, some of whom have learned to like shopping. (By the way, Underhill reveals that women are more likely to shop with a list and pay attention to prices, which marks men as the true impulse shoppers.)

For example, a 2000 survey by Copernicus Marketing of Auburndale, Mass., indicates that 90% of men do their own shopping. However, the survey also indicates that more and more men are shopping online. So what's keeping them away from the stores? According to Copernicus, it's the dread of long lines, crowded parking lots, and overaggressive salespeople. Given all that, it seems as if retailers can't really count on male shoppers.

Sir-vival of the fittest

But according to Jay Fitzpatrick, creative director and president of the New York -based Fitzpatrick Design Group, even the more-focused, in-and-out male shopper can be persuaded to linger and buy, if the store makes an effort to reach men. That effort, says Fitzpatrick, is the key to continued success for many retailers. It's a concept he calls “sir-vival.” And he says, “Whoever picks up on it is going to be brilliant and whoever doesn't is going to be gone.”

London-based Retail Intelligence (www.cior.com), a retail consulting firm, agrees. In its 1999 report Men & Shopping: Unlocking the Potential, the firm states, “Men should not be regarded as a semi-redundant consumer category. Indeed, far from being consigned to retail limbo, they should be courted and wooed in the same way as women.” Furthermore, Retail Intelligence argues, “retailers need to unlock the economic potential that lies in the hearts and wallets of men if they are to realize the successful expansion of their businesses.”

But how does a retailer appeal to a male customer? According to Fitzpatrick, a key is to play to some of the male clichés mentioned earlier. After all, there's a reason a synonym for cliché is truism.

First of all, the man-savvy retailer keeps its messages as straightforward as possible. “Convenience is all,” says Fitzpatrick. “Keep things simple. Edit everything.” Even the guy who may stay in the store for a while needs to feel he can just get in and get out. The ideal is what Fitzpatrick calls the “departure store.”

“A store immediately has to communicate three things to a man in order to reach him successfully,” says Fitzpatrick. “The man needs to see how to get in, he needs to understand how to find things, and he needs to know how to get out quickly. Even if he's going to be there awhile, he needs to know how to get out when he wants to, or he won't feel comfortable and he won't go in.”

Remember, men don't like to ask for directions. The last thought a male shopper wants to have is that one day a search party will find his bleached bones in some designer's branded zone or, God forbid, the lingerie section.

Simply irresistible

Simplicity in product layout and selection is one message male shoppers receive loud and clear. “When I go into a store and see three or four different kinds of blue jeans all in the same brand, and then the same business with a few more brands of jeans I'm going to get uncomfortable. We don't care whether the jeans are $26.99 or $34.99 we just don't want it to be complicated.”

This craving for simplicity can be backed with statistics as well. According to Underhill, more than half the men who try on an item will buy that item, as opposed to 25% of female shoppers. The smart men's marketer, therefore, makes the dressing rooms plentiful and obvious.

The creation of a proper atmosphere can also help sell to men. While most men will try to sprint through a traditional beauty/cosmetic section, Fitzpatrick suggests that a setting reminiscent of an old barber shop might offer the necessary comfort zone for male customers.

Retail Intelligence echoes this as well, arguing for the creation of man-friendly “male creches.” And really, the entire business is about comfort. Shoppers male and female have lots of options. Making a store more guy-friendly isn't about creating shrines to the Three Stooges (although they are really cool). It is about making the store easier for anyone to shop, which means that everyone benefits especially the retailer.

W.S. Moore III is a Muncie, Ind.-based writer.