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As the large glass doors slide open, a rush of sounds race to greet my sister and I – metal clinking, repetitive beeps, the rustle of plastic, and bits of chatter overheard from nearby conversations. An hour later, we emerge from the aisles and park our overfilled carts at the register line. Next to the groceries are needed bathroom and kitchen items, cosmetics, and home office supplies. Every Sunday, my sister and I attempt to run the majority of household errands together before the start of our work weeks.

Our Sunday routine, while small in comparison to the retail spending universe, is actually part of a broader change that’s influencing the retail space, from office supplies to apparel and everything in between. It’s estimated that women will make up nearly three-quarters of consumer spending globally by 2028. In the U.S., nearly half of the total labor force is made up of women balancing home life with work life.* Millennial moms are a growing segment and account for 46 percent of their age group, with 71 percent working outside of the home**. According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of women act as the sole or primary source of income for the family. Gender lines are blurring and it’s happening in a multitude of ways. For office supplies industry players, the consumer segment of working women is an important one, especially when considering their shopping and buying behaviors for their home office, small business, and on-site office needs.

In the office supplies industry, retail sales outside of the back-to-school season shift towards the small- and medium-sized business customer, which includes freelancers and home office workers. In 2015, NPD found that office supplies retail sales outside of the back-to-school season grew 3 percent, and accounted for 72 percent of total yearly office supplies sales growth***. According to the Freelancers Union, approximately 34 percent of the U.S. population works as a freelancer and this number is expected to increase to 50 percent by 2020. Women make up more than half of all full-time freelancers. Types of freelancing vary from self-employed moonlighters to full-time independent contractors, and work can be done on-site or from a home office. Increased usage of social media alongside the evolution and prevalence of online marketplaces have really helped to encourage freelancing as an alternative or bonus to traditional part-time and full-time employment. On Etsy, for example, over 80 percent of sellers are female and 36 percent hold a full-time job in addition to their online business—a 10 percentage point increase versus 2013. Self-employed women make up 40 percent of the self-employed workforce* and female entrepreneurship is on the rise.

Overall, there is also a growing segment of women working from home. Amidst a growing population of employees that work from a home office or distribute their weekly working hours between home and office, women made up 39 percent of these teleworkers in 2015, up 10 percent from 2013****. The work-from-home woman spans several consumer segments including working from home supporting a large corporation, freelancing, or as a business owner.

From product development and merchandising to where she’s shopping and what she’s buying, the changing female consumer demographic opens doors to new opportunities for retailers and manufacturers. For those serving the home office, self-employed, and freelance worker it’s important to take into account these changes, and pay close attention to the working professional woman and in what ways her behaviors, preferences, and needs vary at retail.

*Source: U.S. Department of Labor
**Source: Exponential
***The NPD Group, Inc. / Office Supplies Weekly Retail Tracking Service (excludes Janitorial and Breakroom)
****Source: Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc.