Spoiler alert: If we talked to your father, brother, boyfriend, uncle or spouse for this story, stop reading now if you want your present to be a surprise.
He's moving through the throngs at Tyrone Square Mall, trying to keep his mind on the mission. It's not easy. He sees the guy flying that remote-control helicopter and recalls how he got one of those last year for his nephew. He thinks it would be cool to have one himself. But then he remembers how, when he was at Best Buy to get an iPad for his daughter and a laptop for his wife, he bought himself a 55-inch TV for $2,199 and his wife told him: No more gifts for yourself.
And so he moves on. He doesn't know where he'll spot the next gift or who will get it. It will just come to him like the beers he knows he'll have when he's done.
He spots a Hollister clothes store and thinks: daughter. He wades into the booming surf music, heads to the first table he sees. He picks up a pink sweater with ruffles. Medium, perfect. He turns around, spots a cream sweater with silky flowers and rhinestones on the lapel. He scans, turns in circles, sees nothing and returns to the register. Sixty-six dollars and 67 cents later, Joe Eicher walks out.
Total time in the store: three minutes.
• • •
Guy shoppers. Let's face it. Most would rather be doing something else. Surveys show they're more likely than women to wait until the last minute. They are also less likely to analyze price, style color, or texture, or to look for one item at different stores.
Talk to two dozen and most will tell you they want to get in and out, quick-like. No need to test out the lavender lotion. You see it, you decide, you buy it.
"I just know what I want and I go after it," said Eicher, 45, a sales manager at Advanced Microwave Components in Largo. "I'm aggressive and I guess it translates to the shopping."
Like a lot of guy behavior, male shopping rituals apparently harken back to hunter-gatherer days. Somebody has studied this.
Women shop like gatherers, says Daniel Kruger of the University of Michigan. Men shop like hunters.
"Thus, even though the prey is now an expensive home theater system," Kruger wrote in a journal article, "men are still applying the skills that were developed to obtain meat in a hunter-gatherer environment."
• • •
Three firefighters stand at a jewelry store counter. They're talking about how to put together a sterling silver charm bracelet.
The purse? The dog paw? The heart? The high heel?
They're at Helzberg Diamonds because Todd McCarthy, 32, of Largo needs a present for his wife of two months. And because Adam Poirrier, a Gulfport firefighter, pushed the charm bracelet: "It's a no-brainer cause every holiday you can add to it." And because guys like to hunt — er, shop — with other guys.
McCarthy, leaning over the counter in a gray sweatshirt, ball cap on backward, mulls the choices.
"You could always get the rocking horse," says friend Corey Wagner, a St. Petersburg firefighter.
"How about the football?" offers the clerk helpfully.
Todd shakes his head. They have dogs. He loves her.
"No, the dog paw," he says. "And the hearts."
Later, Todd's friends stand with him while he waits to pay. Provide a drum roll as the clerk plugs in the numbers to the cash register. Look at him sympathetically when he says, "Oh Lord."
• • •
With so many shops catering to women, whole sections of the mall feel off limits to some guys.
Patrick Johnson and his friend, Greg Salapack, 20-year-old students at St. Petersburg College, were well aware of this as they shopped at Tyrone.
"I feel weird if I'm alone," Johnson said. "I'd be afraid that I'd end up lost in the store and all of a sudden I'm in the lingerie section and everybody's like, 'What's he doing here?' "
Three-quarters of all buyers are women, but men are bigger buyers than they used to be. Two decades ago, just 14 percent of all primary household shoppers were men. Today the primary shopper in 32 percent of households is a man, according to Nielsen and NPD Group.
Still, Greg and Patrick keep to the safe stores. They buy Greg's grandma a pair of beige slippers and a blanket from Brookstone.
• • •
He sits at the bar of Hooters in the mall, pitcher of Bud Light between him and one of his employees. He has been here for a few hours. There are no shopping bags at his feet. He seems unstressed.
Is he a last-minute shopper?
Michael Plummer, 34, says no. Says he was done in September. He takes another sip of his beer.
September? Who's done in September?
"I'm a planner," he says. "It's what I do."
He pulls up a list from his phone. A wine holder for his mom. An Army backpack for his nephew. A Beers of the World collection for the maintenance guy at the business he owns.
"I'm an Army veteran," he says. "Hurry up and wait. I get done early. You want to have the tools in hand, do you not?"
The guy sitting with him nods. He tends to buy everyone the same gift. Last year it was Blu-ray players.
Plummer looks at the time. His wife thinks he's shopping.
To buy time, he'd texted her:
What is your necklace size?
I don't know I can measure my heart one.
The waitress comes up.
"Want another pitcher?" she asks.
Plummer laughs. Yes.
Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.