Popular stereotypes, data on sexual loyalty, and theories on the differences between men and women lead to the expectation that women are more loyal customers than men. The authors conduct five studies showing that this is not always the case. Female customers are indeed more loyal than male customers to individuals, such as specific service providers (e.g., a hair dresser, a doctor, a salesperson). However, the difference is reversed for groups and grouplike entities, such as companies. That is, men tend to be more loyal than women to companies and organizations (e.g., a hair salon, a medical clinic, a store).
The authors explain this counterintuitive effect by showing that the gender differences in customer loyalty depend on fundamental psychological differences between men and women. Women tend to view themselves as being connected with and dependent on a few specific individual others. In contrast, men tend to view themselves as being connected with and dependent on larger groups of people and organizations. Because individual relationships are more important to women, they are more likely to develop loyal customer relationships with individual service providers. Conversely, men find group relationships important and are more likely to develop loyal customer relationships with firms and organizations.
The findings have several managerial implications. First, whereas male consumers may be satisfied with an anonymous relationship with a store or chain, female consumers demand more personal, one-to-one relationships. Second, the power over the customer relationship should be more with individual employees and less with the company if the company targets female rather than male customers. Female customers should be more likely than male customers to defect and follow an individual employee if that employee leaves the company. Second, the results indicate that companies may want to use different strategies to prevent customer defection depending on the gender of their customers. For companies with a large share of male customers, strategies such as the rotation of employees or assigning a team rather than one employee to a customer may be more successful than for a company with predominantly female customers. Finally, the finding that men care more about group and less about individual relationships than women has implications for advertising. For companies targeting men, advertising strategies stressing group themes should engender more loyalty. For companies targeting women, advertising themes focusing on personal relationships may be more suitable.
Valentyna Melnyk is Lecturer in Marketing in the Waikato Management School at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Previously, she was appointed as an assistant professor at the Free University of Amsterdam. She received her PhD from CentER at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. Her dissertation was finalist for the SAP-PIM Marketing Science award. Her research interests include customer loyalty, loyalty programs, branding, advertising, and cross-cultural marketing.
Stijn M.J. Van Osselaer is Professor of Marketing and head of the Marketing Department at the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University. He received his PhD from the University of Florida and previously served as assistant and associate professor at the University of Chicago. His main research interests are in branding and the influences of learning, memory, and cognition in consumers’ decisions. Stijn’s work has appeared in Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, among other outlets. He is a recipient of the Ferber Award for best dissertation-based article in Journal of Consumer Research and the Best Reviewer Award from Journal of Marketing. Stijn is an associate editor of Journal of Consumer Research, a former area editor at International Journal of Research in Marketing, and a member of Journal of Marketing’s Editorial Review Board.
Tammo H.A. Bijmolt is Professor of Marketing Research in the Department of Marketing, Faculty of Economics and Business, at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. His research interests include loyalty programs, customer relationship management, retailing, perceptual mapping, and meta-analysis. His publications have appeared in leading international journals, such as Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, International Journal of Research in Marketing, Psychometrika, and Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A. Tammo received the best-paper award 2007 from International Journal of Research in Marketing and is a member of the editorial review board of that journal.Journal of Marketing, Volume 73, Number 4, July 2009
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