October 31, 2005, 12:00 AM

Gender Matters

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Asserting that women enjoy shopping online is hardly a ­headline, but The Gender Agenda`s qualitative studies show that women associated online shopping with exploration and self-actualization. Despite the fact that shopping trails only e-mail in women`s online activities, women perceive the Internet principally to be a life management tool and shopping but a continuation of several essential and interrelated activities.

3. Women scan; men dig

Cognitive psychology could explain this gap several ways (women synthesize; men analyze) but The Gender Agenda`s findings point to women`s well-documented multi-tasking online, and their constituent-driven behavior (they shop as much for others as for themselves), and, thus, their need to move quickly across as many options as possible. Most of the female participants spoke of their enthusiasm for the View All option. We also found:

  • 65% of women consider online shopping to be like window shopping vs. 46% of men.
  • Men are 20% more likely to use comparison tools than women, and were observed during Resource Interactive`s Replay Usability ­sessions going to great lengths--and through however many shopping aggregator, retailer, and manufacturer sites as necessary--to find the price range and features of their product. They are more likely than women to compare multiple products, learn more about product specifications, read product reviews, check product ratings and select a manufacturer or brand as a final shorthand to quality and satisfaction once the other criteria have been met.
  • Women are 1.5 times more likely to add items to the shopping cart for later viewing (carts are a winnowing tool that accommodate women`s stop-and-start shopping patterns), and are two times more likely to use visualization tools than men.

4. Men are enticed by product, then lifestyle; women are enticed by lifestyle, then product

Though a balance and an integration of product specifics and lifestyle cues are the Holy Grail of bi-gendered e-commerce, there were still subtle differences between men and women`s aesthetic orientation and emotional engagement online:

  • 57% of men recalled product attributes and brands, despite the concealment of logos. They made 20% more "narrow view" mentions, and 15% more mentions of exact wording.
  • Women mentioned their feelings about the overall web site without prompting 31% more often than men. They also made 44% more "wide view" mentions and 75% more color-related mentions.

5. Women expand the mission; men stick to the mission

Women are frankly more opportunistic than men online and enjoy the role retailers can play in ­provoking digressions. This is not to say that their tangents are not ultimately purposive, though:

  • Women take three times more tangents than men when shopping online, but most female participants spoke of themes that connected diverse items, such as "vacation." One woman shopping for bathing suits ended up buying a kayak.
  • Men are twice as likely as women to buy online and pick up their purchase in-store. This could be explained as a motivation to save shipping charges on large items. But men also rank availability to ship immediately higher in the top five relevant features and benefits than did women. By contrast, several women spoke of the pleasure of receiving packages long enough after the purchase for there to be an element of surprise.

For online retailers, one-size-fits-all marketing makes little sense when gendered marketing could represent the lowest hanging fruit since Eve plucked the apple for Adam. The male online shopper in particular should be considered ripe for cultivation. While fewer in number online, and with an average order value comparable to women`s, men can be a growth driver for e-commerce merchants who can increase men`s transaction numbers. The average number of transactions for women over the four quarters ending March 2005 is 2.9 vs. only 2.3 for men, according to comScore Networks.

Androgyny, while a legitimate fashion stance, is a short-sighted marketing strategy. Online, ­androgyny is a lost opportunity for retailers who design their web sites for the largest undifferentiated audience in a medium where the potential for customized marketing is unprecedented. While there is a new chorus of marketing experts exhorting businesses to cease overlooking some of their increasingly powerful segments--­including women and Boomers--there are few businesses focusing on both genders in a differentiated fashion. It could be a case of missing the forest for the trees, but whatever the cause, the cure is a simple segmentation that accommodates the very real behavioral differences between the sexes, some of which carry over from the offline world, one of which does not: men actually enjoy shopping online.

Nita Rollins is executive director of marketing for Columbus, Ohio-based Resource Interactive, an online consumer experience agency. She can be reached at 614-621-2888.

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