Females Dominate Online Shopping

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NEW YORK ( -- As females assume the dominant position as Internet shoppers, marketers are being forced to retool their online retail strategies to make them more accommodating to women, according to a new eMarketer study.
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Today, females age 3 and up comprise 52% of the online population -- mirroring their percentage in the population at large. By 2008, though, there will be roughly 10 million more females online than males, the study said. More important, just as women influence three-quarters of household expenditures offline -- from health care to holiday gifts -- they are doing the same online.

Fastest-growing categories
In 2003, women were responsible for 60% of all online spending, according to a report by Goldman, Sachs & Co., Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings. Traditional female product categories now have become the fastest growing on the Web. Jewelry and watch sales grew 67% between 2003 and 2004, and furniture and appliances increased 58%.

And women are even taking control over buying in sectors that have traditionally been dominated by men, like electronic gear, where women account for $55 billion of the $96 billion spent between 2003 and 2004, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

Not as comfortable online
But "women are still more comfortable shopping offline because the online environment doesn't meet their needs as well," said Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst and author of the eMarketer report. For instance, she pointed to apparel sites that post photos of shirts individually and all in a row instead of grouped with pants, skirts and accessories so women can put together outfits as they do at the mall. She noted that women more so than men bring their bricks-and-mortar retail sensitivities to the Web.

Ms. Williamson was former an editor and staff writer at Advertising Age.

In the area of home improvement, where 38% of women in a Vertis poll in 2004 said they make the buying decisions, e-tailers are remodeling their Web sites to better catch the woman's eye. Home Depot, which actively courts females in stores, has placed interior design elements front and center on the home page, and women are shown in photos of an entire room of Home Depot products that has been assembled as it would look in real life. Rival retailer Lowe's put together all the pieces of an outdoor space from lights and furniture to shrubbery on its site. "A woman doesn't want to go in and see a bunch of light fixtures," Ms. Williamson said. "How boring is that?"

Opting in for e-mail
Women, Ms. Williamson said, also like a chance to discover what other shoppers like and share their finds and bargains with friends -- online and offline. Major fans of e-mail (e-mailing is their favorite Internet activity, followed by shopping), women like to receive messages from their favorite e-tailers.

Packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble Co. coupled relationship marketing with an enhanced sense of community feeling in its Tide Coldwater campaign. Each person who signs up to get a free sample can forward an e-mail to a friend. "The map tracks the spread of forwarded e-mails and let's people visualize their own impact on the campaign," Ms. Williamson wrote. More than 789,803 people had accepted the challenge.

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