Cyberspace Cowboys and Web Surfer Girls

Back when Internet retailing was in its infancy—say, seven years ago—there were firmly held beliefs about the way men and women use the medium and which gender represented the dominant player. New research has turned many of those beliefs upside down.

Resource Interactive, a consumer research firm based in Columbus, Ohio, has released findings on the online shopping habits of men and women. The company’s study sought to differentiate the way men and women shop online, determine if their online experiences differ from their offline experiences, and draw conclusions that could help retailers create Web sites that appeal to both genders.

The research was unveiled at the Shop.org 2005 Annual Summit in September during a presentation called “The Gender Agenda.”

“The real opportunity lies in thinking about how women and men shop online,” Kelly Mooney, president and chief experience officer of Resource Interactive, told the audience of online and multichannel retailers. “Accommodating the way he clicks and she clicks constitutes the simplest audience segmentation retailers can do.”

WHO WEARS THE PANTS ONLINE?

In the past, online retailing, like all things involving the Internet, was considered a man’s world. In 1997, 65 percent of online shoppers were men. By 2000, that number had fallen to 51 percent. By 2004, women had overtaken men and accounted for 52 percent of online shoppers.

Women also are surpassing men in online spending, according to a recent survey of the comScore Global Research Panel of 150,000 households. That survey was one aspect of the two-part methodology used by Resource Interactive. According to the research, women spend an average of $215 online per quarter while men spend $176 in the same period. Women make an average of 2.9 transactions per quarter compared with 2.3 for men. Men, however, generally still spend more per transaction.

“So basically, when you look at that data, from my interpretation, women are almost buying once a month online,” Edd Johns, Resource Interactive’s executive director for strategy, said in a follow-up interview with JCK. “There’s where you start to see the propensity of women to be more active than men from a transacting standpoint.”

Mooney and Dan Hess, senior vice president of comScore Networks, who also participated in the Shop.org presentation, said women spend more and make more transactions in all product categories used for the survey, including those traditionally dominated by men.

For example, women now make up 54 percent of shoppers for home-improvement products. They spend $177 per quarter compared with $117 for men. Women also make up 52 percent of shoppers in the electronics category, although men still spend more on average ($257 to $186 per quarter).

“More women are disproportionately driving online shopping,” Hess told the audience at the Shop.org event. Mooney added, “It’s obvious that women are wearing the pants.”

In addition to the comScore data, Resource Interactive measured the behavior and attitudinal differences between male and female shoppers by tracking and observing visually the online shopping habits of small groups of men and women in San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio. After observing the groups, the company conducted one-on-one videotaped interviews, some of which were included in the Shop.org presentation. The company used this research to create “cognitive maps,” which it says reveal the emotional state of online shoppers. This is the research that Mooney says refutes much of the conventional wisdom of online shopping behavior. Among its findings about men and women when using the Internet:

  • Women feel empowered; men feel powerful.

  • Women scan; men dig.

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

  • Women are enticed by lifestyle, then product; men are enticed by product, then lifestyle.

ENRICHED Vs. AWAKENED

The offline buying habits of men and women are well known, and it’s no secret that women generally love to shop and men don’t. While women were 4 percent more satisfied than men in the online shopping experience, most men find online shopping preferable to shopping in stores.

Of the survey group, 17 percent of those who say they enjoy shopping offline were men. This number improves to 42 percent when respondents are asked to rate the online experience.

Early research, of course, found that men were the first and more numerous of the two genders to head online to meet their shopping needs, and, at more than 47 percent, still represent a significant segment of online shoppers.

“The pie is much more easily distributed online,” Mooney told the audience. “Men fundamentally enjoy online shopping more than they enjoy offline shopping.”

Mooney says that’s because online, men’s “inner shopper” is “awakened.” (“Who knew men had an inner shopper?”) Women’s inner shopper is “enriched.”

EMPOWERED VS. POWERFUL

While both men and women enjoy shopping online, their reasons differ. For example, according to the research, women feel “empowered” when shopping online, while men feel “powerful.” Those findings were supported by the videotaped interviews.

“It’s a nuance, but it’s critical,” Mooney says. “Women say, ‘I can do it.’ Men say, ‘I can win.’ It’s very fundamentally different.”

For example, Mooney says women like online shopping because they achieve so much in so little time, they look forward to receiving packages in the mail, and they like the discovery aspect of online searches. They also like shopping at their own pace.

Men, according to Mooney (and the videotaped segments), feel they are more in control of their shopping experience than they are offline. They also find online shopping more efficient than offline shopping, and say they’re better able to make deals and discover specials and extras. Overall, according to Mooney (and once again supported by videotaped segments), men felt “victorious” at the end of their online shopping experience.

DEBUNKING A STEREOTYPE

According to Mooney, the research debunks a common stereotype about online shoppers, first asserted in 2000, that women are “seekers” online, who look for a particular nugget of information and then leave as soon as they find it, whereas men surf the Internet in an open-ended fashion.

“Maybe that was true in 2000, but it isn’t true anymore,” Mooney said. “Women, in fact, scan … need options. Men dig; they need facts.”

While searching Web sites for products, women followed tangents three times more often than men, Mooney said. A total of 65 percent of women were more likely to open multiple Web site windows while shopping, compared with 45 percent of men.

In addition, women were 1.5 times more likely than men to buy for their children. However, Resource Interactive’s Johns, in a follow-up interview, said men also buy gifts and that the time of year affects the quantity of gift giving among men and women. Women’s spending for gifts goes up during the Christmas holiday season, while men’s spending for gifts increases around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

“You see women spending significantly higher in the fourth quarter for gift giving,” he said. “In the spring quarter, men are transacting more than women in that period [for gift giving].”

Men do more research and read more online than their female counterparts, Mooney told the audience. They are 20 percent more likely than women to use comparison tools.

Resource Interactive interpreted this to be a case of women “expanding the mission” while men “stick to the mission” online, even if it means picking up their purchases in-store, which they are twice as likely as women to do.

PRODUCT AND LIFESTYLE

To determine how men and women view Internet pages, Resource Interactive asked survey participants to view 18 retail Web site home pages without logos or any other brand identification for five seconds. When asked what they remembered about the pages, more than half of the men either recalled or somehow determined the brand despite the concealment of the logo. About one-third of women described their feelings about the overall Web site design.

Both genders chose the Williams-Sonoma Web site as their favorite for visual appeal and the Crate & Barrel Web site CB2 as their second favorite, but for different reasons. “Women liked the prestige of the [Williams-Sonoma] site,” Mooney said. “Men like the shiny pots. They both liked the stories.” She added, “Women imagined what the products would be like at home.”

Mooney continued, “Women are enticed by lifestyle first, then product. Men are product- focused.” Mooney also concluded that the appeal of these Web sites for both genders was that they balanced product with lifestyle. She said that neither gender liked Web sites that focused solely on product or lifestyle.

Mooney said using high-quality photography and relying on relevant, well-written stories about products are among the key ingredients in creating Web sites with broad gender appeal.

“The gender market is the most overlooked segment on the Web,” she said. “Getting this right can be the key to mastering this segment. … It’s about men and women.”