Girls Like to Shop … Maybe You Could Sell to Them?

Comics is a bizarre industry in so many ways. The close, almost non-existent boundary between fan/consumer and pro/creator … the sheer number of weekly products retailers are expected to handle, from a distributor that refuses to treat them as adults and ship material before the day it goes on sale … the never-ending stories with ancient properties and brands that value continuity over entertainment … but one of the weirdest, to me, is how some comic stores are still gender-segregated.

From the inappropriate behavior of staff and/or owners — who obviously view women as “other”, not like them or any of their buddies, there to be stared at, not served — to decor that’s off-putting to anyone who’s not an adolescent male, some dedicated comic stores seem to want to be man cave clubhouses more than temples of commerce. (I like to believe, in this modern era, that there are fewer of them than there used to be, but I don’t know if anyone’s actually figured that out.) That’s not a new concept to any woman who’s done comic shopping while traveling, but a few recent pieces have made some great points on the topic.

Jennifer de Guzman started things off with a piece that began:

Like many women who read comics, I have a “girl in a comic shop” horror story. When I first started working in the comics industry, I told it a lot more often than I do now. I’d since pretty much retired it, thinking it wasn’t relevant anymore, not in this age of manga and young adult graphic novels. But it seems I was wrong…

She attributes it to an over-developed sense of wanting to find and be with people “like you”:

Comics have thrived, in their own way, on being insular and appealing to a closed circle of fans. Comics isn’t just a medium for many people — it is a community. And, unfortunately, a community whose largest faction is very much a clique. … They don’t want to stop using their comic shop as boys-only clubhouses.

de Guzman’s solution is for women to create their own alternatives: comics they like, shops that are friendly. That’s a fine idea, but it doesn’t protect the girls with no other choices, the ones where the only comic stores for miles are run by a troll. How do we educate them?

In response to de Guzman’s piece, Brigid Alverson dreams of an ideal store, one that is clean (sad that we have to start there, isn’t it? but low profits in comics means fewer options available and a willingness to settle for dingy spaces) and staffed with helpful people and not creepily decorated. Actually, Brigid’s suggestions work for most consumers, including adults of all kinds. Except the chocolate — I’m not sure foodstuffs and paper products mix.

I’d add to her suggestions that a store should have enough room for customers to move around and browse without having to touch or brush by other patrons. Nothing disturbs shopping more than being butt-bumped by someone who doesn’t realize how much room they and their backpack are taking up. Also, think about shoppers in wheelchairs or with other assistive devices. Room to move helps them as well.

Note that a shop that concentrates on material with a better profit margin is more likely to have funds to do this kind of design and maintenance. That means a store that carries book collections and well-selected merchandise may be a better choice than one chasing bottom feeders by offering high periodical discounts to capture customers who want to keep their collections complete for the lowest price possible.

5 Responses to “Girls Like to Shop … Maybe You Could Sell to Them?”

  1. Melinda Beasi Says:

    I’d add to her suggestions that a store should have enough room for customers to move around and browse without having to touch or brush by other patrons.

    I second this wholeheartedly! I’m a slow and careful browser–I ponder a shelf slowly enough so that I can read the name of every single title as I go, and I’ll probably repeat this process at least a couple times over and then stand there for another half hour, mulling over my choices before I make my selections. But in a crowded aisle, where others are constantly forced to squeeze by me as I browse will make me feel like I’m just in the way, and in the end, I’ll often just give up without buying anything at all.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Exactly! If I can’t bend down or reach up to read titles without hitting others, I won’t be looking at those books.

  3. El Santo Says:

    Not a bad idea. Back when I was in business school, we did some research where we discovered that men tended to shop at Home Depot while women tended to shop at Lowe’s. (I’m a guy, and I prefer the latter when I’m not at Ace, but whatever.) Part of that was because Lowe’s was more spacious, better lighted, and had less of that overtly “manly feel.”

    I’d like to think that a female-oriented shop could succeed, but you’ve nailed the culture being a clubby boy’s only club, and I don’t know if they’d necessarily feel like migrating toward something different. Hopefully, there would be enough female fans to support it. (I’m thinking the pre-teen/teenage crowd that frequents the manga section at Borders would at least appreciate a similarly friendly atmosphere, by the way.)

    Incidentally, the comic shops near me have been very clean and very accessible. One concept that I think would really work with your concept, Johanna, is this one small comic store near the University of Washington that is also a coffee shop. Basically, you can pick up a book and read while enjoying a nice latte. A comic store for the more sophisticated patron!

  4. Johanna Says:

    It’s descriptions like that that make me wish I drank coffee! It’s not the female fans that have to support the idea, but a few crotchety sole proprietors, I think.

  5. Comic Book Candy Says:

    I have been in some dank dens in my time, and plenty of well lit stores, too. At the end of the day whether you’re a man, woman, or have specific decor preferences, you go to a store for the people. If someone makes you feel welcome, you’ll come back, even if the store has cramped quarters. And likewise, you’ll avoid a store with the most fantastic merchandise if the people running it don’t treat you well.

    I will say, one of the most female-friendly stores, in staff and ambiance alike, is Challengers Comics in Chicago.




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