Women wear the pants online also

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Women are about to revolutionize the Internet. Not only are females about to outnumber males online, but they are poised to dominate spending decisions in the electronic space just as they do in the earthly realm. That means e-marketers had best transform the online retail world to look more like the brick-and-mortar retail stores women respond to, according to a new study from eMarketer on the growing majority of women online.

Today, females make up 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. More important, just as women influence three-quarters of household expenditures offline-from health care to holiday gifts-they are poised to do the same online.

Indeed, some data show women are already in the position of dominance. In 2003, they were responsible for 60% of total online spending, said a report by Goldman, Sachs & Co., Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings. Traditional female product categories have become the fastest growing on the Web. Jewelry and watches grew 67% between 2003 and 2004, and furniture and appliances grew 58%. They 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.


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, eMarketer. She pointed to apparel sites where shirt photos are posted in a line, instead of grouped with pants, skirts and accessories so women can put together outfits as they do at the mall.

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 to catch a woman's eye. Home Depot, which actively courts females in its 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. 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?"

Women also like a chance to uncover 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.

Procter & Gamble Co. coupled relationship marketing with breeding a community feeling in its Tide Coldwater campaign, which, in enticing consumers to take the "Coldwater Challenge," shows an interactive map of the U.S. on the brand's Web site. 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 lets people visualize their own impact on the campaign," Ms. Williamson wrote. More than 789,803 people accepted the challenge since January.

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