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Web spending: Battle of the sexes

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Women-owned small businesses are emerging as prolific online spenders, according to a report. Significantly, the report also says women-owned small businesses go about researching online purchases more diligently and are more receptive to relationship-based marketing than their male-owned counterparts.

The report prepared by New York-based consultancy Cyber Dialogue Inc. found that women-owned small businesses spent about $18.5 billion online last year, or about 46% of all small-business spending on the Internet. Meanwhile, 72% of small businesses with at least one female owner and 69% of those solely owned by women placed orders online in 2000. Only 64% of solely male-owned businesses placed orders online in 2000.

Women-owned small businesses are buying a wide array of products online. Fifty percent of those polled bought software online, while 36% bought books and 27% bought retail items.

Cyber Dialogue's polling revealed that women-owned businesses are more likely than male-owned companies to respond to relationship marketing initiatives, said senior analyst Joi Anderson. This means that companies targeting them should emphasize customer relationship marketing projects, she said.

Many female business owners also exhaustively research purchases before making them, usually on independent sites. Marketers can cultivate them by providing third-party product reviews on their own sites, Anderson said. "Women are predisposed to check other Web sites," she said. "The theory is that women are going to find it anyway. So the more information you supply, the better."

Cyber Dialogue's findings notwithstanding, few big companies have actively marketed to women over the Internet. A notable exception is First Union Corp., which created a women's business portal in 1999. "We looked a little closer and said, 'Hey, this is an underserved market,' " said Gigi Dixon, senior VP at the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank. "And for this reason it was attractive to us."

To compile the report, Cyber Dialogue interviewed executives at some 1,000 businesses with fewer than 100 employees that do at least some of their purchasing online.

Women-owned businesses account for more than $3.6 trillion in annual sales, according to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.

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