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The Influential Female Shopper

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Despite blurring gender roles, several research reports reveal there are still several significant distinctions in consumer behavior between the sexes.

The blend trend, pioneered largely by Generation X women, has become more apparent as women in this generational cohort vie for their financial independence, obtaining degrees in higher education, landing highly skilled jobs and getting married later in life -- ultimately making Gen X women increasingly more self-reliant.

"A lot of women are playing a greater role in typical male [dominated] roles, and vice versa for men," says Scott Marden, director of marketing research at Vertis, a marketing services firm.

So it may come as no surprise that areas of consumer consumption typically dominated by men, such as home improvement and home electronics purchases, are seeing more female consumers. According to a recent Vertis study, made public in June, called Customer Focus 2004: Home Electronics, 90 percent of women stated they share equally or made the decision for home electronics purchases in 2004 compared to 79 percent in 1998.

Additionally, the female presence is making itself more apparent in ways never seen before at Vertis. The study, which polled 3,000 randomly selected participants across the U.S., marked the first time for Vertis that the percentage of female shoppers exceeded male shoppers, 51 percent to 49 percent.

What's more, is that we can expect to see even more of the same from the next generation of women. The report states over the next 12 months a larger percent (35 percent) of Generation Y women 18-24 plan to purchase wireless devices, compared to 21 percent of women ages 25-34.

Still, while gender roles continue to merge, there remain some significant differences in buying behavior between men and women, especially on the Web. For example, according to a Forrester Research report, released in early July, called Online Women and Their Media Habits, more women claim they are pressed for time than men, 40 percent of women compared to 33 percent of men, that is. Yet, surprisingly, women are less likely to buy products that save them time and hassle, with 50 percent of men agreeing to pay more for the convenience versus only 43 percent of women.

At first glance, it almost doesn't make sense, admits Charlene Li, principal analyst and author of the Forrester report. However, upon further investigation, she reveals that it's a matter of finances. "It has to do with demographics and money. If you make more money, you're more willing to pay more. That explains quite a bit. The women who responded online tended to have a lower household income [than men]."

While gender roles are blending, the Forrester study states average household income for online dads is $65,000, whereas online moms lag behind by $9,000 with an average household income of $56,000, which takes single and married moms and dads into account. The Forrester study polled 60,000 households across the country.

Yet, despite lower salaries, women down to teenage girls are increasingly becoming more influential in household purchasing decisions online. A Jupiter Research report on the buying behavior of teens, which surveyed 1,800 teens online, states teen girls are more influential in household spending and show more online activity at age 14 than boys at age 17.

Whether this portends a society in which women will become the dominant spending gender as these teens grow older remains to be seen, however, pundits agree that marketers need to target their marketing campaigns to not only go after the money, but the driving forces behind that money, as well.

"Gen X women are empowered, they have a different psychological make up than previous generations. [So as a marketer,] you want to use a different tone of voice or language to effectively market to them," Marden says. For example, he adds, "Gen X women have a thrilling side, which speaks more to the mindset of the single woman getting married later in life."

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