Fashion Talk Don't know what to give the men in your life this Christmas? Here's a probe inside the mind of an online male shopper.
When it comes to shopping for men and women, embrace the differences
Gifting, as it's become fashionably known, is not rocket science. At least not when it comes to women. Even when you don't know the recipient well enough, it's a pretty straightforward process singling out an effective box-ticker.
For instance, what woman regardless of age wouldn't love a scented candle (so long as it's by Diptyque or Jo Malone, of course)? Or one of those exclusive perfumes with a waiting list (like White Gardenia Petals by Illuminum, worn by Kate Middleton on her wedding day)? And who could possibly go wrong with an "it" bag (preferably Chanel's "Boy" or Mulberry's "Harriet")?
I had a "eureka" moment this week while attempting to shop for gifts for the menfolk in my life. Returning from yet another time-consuming trip with reassuringly dull presents for an assortment of male relatives, ages 13 to 82, I spied an interesting email that had popped up from the fashion oracle WGSN, the leading online fashion trend-analysis and global research service.
Slumped in a chair cursing myself for my lack of ingenuity, I began to read how MyWardrobe.com, a UK-based online designer-led boutique, has identified a new breed of male shopper who is currently bucking trends.
This "hunter-gatherer", as they call him, is a prolific shopper who surfs the internet for a potential purchase every day - far more than women (53 per cent of men opposed to 45 per cent of women polled in the research admitted to doing this).
Every retailer's dream, this man is also more willing to purchase clothes on his mobile or from social networking sites than his female counterpart, so long as he finds precisely what he wants.
Going down the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus route, the report flags the fundamental differences between how men and women shop.
Men are driven by need, usually to replace classic favourites, and rarely succumb to buying on impulse the way some women can. Men don't plan ahead in terms of outfits and are more interested in quality and fit than fashion.
Men don't want to stand out in the crowd. They are perfunctory creatures, precise about what they like and not geared for change.
Although most facts identified in the report are hardly revelatory, WGSN questions why so few menswear specialists have harnessed this knowledge to turn it to their advantage.
MyWardrobe was no doubt prompted to carry out this research because of the success of one of its e-rivals, Net-A-Porter, which recently moved into menswear. Mr Porter continues to do well with its formula of tightly edited brands and classic styles laid out in an editorial format.
This gives great insight into male retail psychology. Rather than informing on catwalk-hot trends, there are plenty of minutiae shared about the style of watch worn by Steve McQueen. Women would hate this approach.
According to Rob Moss, global marketing director at MyWardrobe.com, men "get a huge amount of satisfaction in finding the best deal. They like to feel they have won, so will often hold out for a bargain unless a product is particularly scarce or desirable."
David Sanderson, managing director of one of the top cashmere brands in the world (Hawico), backs this up.
Sanderson told me his company, which has mixed classic with modern in terms of Japanese seamless knitwear technology (and men love technology), regularly spends up to Dh58,000 to source the "perfect" grey for men's sweaters.
"Men are far more loyal than women as customers. Once a male customer finds something he likes, you are virtually guaranteed his loyalty for life."
This puppy-like devotion has worked for niche mail-order-turned-online sites such as Jacamo, which offers familiar brands in large sizes rarely found in shops, and has become the best performer of the UK's leading mail order outfit JD Williams's stable of catalogues. It even has an "electricals" section so you can put a satnav in your e-shopping basket along with your Hamnett sweater. How very male.
"Online shopping is better suited to men," men's and womenswear designer Susan Acton tells me. "When men shop online they become more adventurous. They actually enjoy it."
What is the ultimate gift for men? An online voucher.
Well - you didn't expect it to be riveting, did you?