Personal Finance

Identify a woman’s purse-onality and win

Among the 15 items found in the handbags of women in the survey, a mobile phone was most common, followed by money and a wallet. Photo/LIZ MUTHONI
Among the 15 items found in the handbags of women in the survey, a mobile phone was most common, followed by money and a wallet. Photo/LIZ MUTHONI 

Women are and will continue to be, the best emerging market for producers of goods and services not just in Kenya but also globally. The evidence is in downtown Nairobi.

I am amazed by the way there are hundreds of shops in Nairobi’s CBD that sell clothes, shoes and beauty accessories targeting women.

And they all survive side by side in what I imagine is cut-throat competition.

But a chat with the proprietors of some of the shops revealed that they each had their own consistent customers.

As the recent national census established, Kenya’s female population is about 19 million, pointing to the available target market for consideration.


I wrote in this column recently that as women become more empowered in society they will increasingly become a driving power in the world economy.

Today they earn and own more than at any previous time in recorded history and their financial power is accelerating and giving them independent income and asset ownership. 

This increasing influence over spending even in individual households is what Marti Barletta, author of Marketing to Women, describes in her book as the Power of the Purse.

A lady’s purse is the nerve center of a woman’s life and bearer of her most important things.

And that’s where the opportunity exists for marketers to fulfill unmet needs.

An object of mystery and a well-guarded secret, a woman’s handbag is sacred and is to be entered at a man’s own peril.

Men frequently ask why women carry around so much stuff in their handbags.

Some say it’s for security- knowing their most treasured things are with them at all times.

Some believe it’s their innate ability to be superorganised - that they are prepared for any situation.

Some even say the content of a woman’s handbag reflects their personality. Others joke you can find anything in the bag apart from the kitchen sink.

Whatever the reason, one thing for sure is that a woman’s handbag is integral to her life.

There is a deep need for businesses to invest in understanding women to address and attract their money.

The most remarkable way is an insight into the contents of the handbag.

Consumer product companies could gain a bigger share of their female customers’ wallets by peering into the dark depths of their purses.

We recently conducted a study among a cross-section of women in Nairobi aimed at understanding the concept ‘handbag’ and its purpose in a woman’s life or livelihood and the various “purse-onalities” of women.  

Since women make 70 percent of retail purchases, that purse becomes a key purchasing instrument, the only physical link between the home (where needs are created) and the store (where those needs can be fulfilled).  

The results were interesting. Apparently the size of the bag doesn’t necessarily dictate the number of items in the handbag, as some tiny bags can hold loads of items in them – how they fit in there is another matter all together.

We found little variation in the items carried by women across the social strata, though the quality of the items and the type of brands differed.

A marketer should want to know if their brand is the one in the handbag.

Of 15 common items, the mobile phone was found in all the bags. Nokia also emerged as the most preferred mobile phone brand in that category.

We found money in 96 per cent of bags, while a wallet and lotion scored 86 and 80 per cent respectively.

The study revealed that the bag grows bigger as the week progresses with the Friday bag being one of the largest.

On the lower rungs of the top 15 items carried by women were supermarket loyalty cards, with the most common being from Tuskys.

Sitting at number eight were sanitary pads with Always emerging as the most prominent brand in the category.

The contents of the handbag provided food for thought to consumer goods producers.

The writer is the marketing director at SBO Research. [email protected]