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Women research major buys online at work

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Picture a woman sitting at her desk using the Internet at 12:30 in the afternoon. What is she doing? Strategic global marketing? No, she's shopping for a new appliance. It's the only time she can spare a few seconds.

Our new study, "What Makes America Click?," is based on a telephone survey of 1,000 online users evenly divided between men and women. It found that time-starved females are flocking online in droves. Of new online users, 58% are women, and 42% of women online access the Internet at work.

At this growth rate, we at NetSmartAmerica.com forecast that by 2002, women will outnumber men online 3-to-2. This is great news for advertisers because women account for more than 70% of household purchases.

These women don't have time to shop during regular retail hours. Instead of jumping in the car or picking up the phone, women now go online on their lunch hours or at home to shop for everything from clothes to computers and even cars.

According to our survey, 86% of women place a high premium on this "time-saving appliance," spending an average of nine hours a week online. These women say they go online to "simplify their lives" (88%) and save time (83%), while men use the Internet to check out news (64%), sports (58%) and stocks (54%).

At the same time, women are deserting the mall and catalogs for e-commerce Web sites. In addition, 81% of women in our survey said they are using the Internet to research major purchases. Women may not buy high-ticket items online yet, but this is where they make up their minds; 28% are doing less of their prepurchase comparison shopping at retail stores.

What draws women online? The deceptively simple answer is relationships and personalization. Women will return and tell others about sites that clearly demonstrate the e-tailer understands what motivated their visit. Men want cut-and-dried transactions; women value interactivity.

Strategic recommendations

So how can a savvy marketer design a site to attract these new users? Here are a few suggestions based on our study:

  • Position products as solutions: Women come to a site to solve a problem, so create buttons that show you understand what motivated their visits. (For example: Redecorating the kitchen? Click here! Safe family car? Click here!)

  • Intuitive navigation: Organize your site by how people think, not how you've organized your product line.

  • Don't use jargon: Women wear clothes, not apparel.

  • Pop-up help screens: According to our study, 83% of users leave Web sites in frustration. Pop-up screens can help users quicker if you ask them to enter what they're looking for, then link them there.

  • Permission marketing: Nurture the relationship with follow-up e-mail only by request.

  • Sponsored content: Sponsored content on niche content aggregators or portals such as Women.com or eHouseSolutions is twice as effective (47%) as banner ads (26%) in generating visits to advertiser sites.

    Overall, the key to successful sites is the same as in traditional off-line marketing: Put the customer first. Online marketing is about customer psychology, not technology. For women, if content is king, relationships are the trump card.

    Bernadette Tracy is president of NetSmartAmerica.com, New York, which conducts syndicated surveys for the Internet industry.

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