What Do Women Want Online? Ten Tips for E-tailers

By James Maguire | Posted April 19, 2005

Clearly, women have become a prime driver — perhaps the prime driver — of e-commerce.

In 2004, female shoppers made 64 percent of online purchases, according to Resource Interactive. "And that figure just continues to rise," says Kelly Mooney, one of Resource Interactive's lead partners.

Adweek lists the Columbus, Ohio-based firm as one of the top 50 interactive agencies.

Mooney co-authored the firm's "What Women Want" report, which is based on 40 in-depth interviews with women, 4,000 online surveys of female shoppers and an array of secondary data.

The report identifies ten key principles for reaching female shoppers online. There are many sub-segments within the female online shopping demographic — older women, younger women, for example — "but there are some general things that women do collectively want that they're not getting," Mooney says.

"It's a medium, let's face it, that's been developed by men, and often and controlled and funded by men, particularly throughout the '90s," she says. "And now that women have become adopters of the medium, it's time to put a new focus on how we look at it."


Courtesy of Comstock.com
 

The role of women has shifted "dramatically in terms of buying cars and homes and managing family finances," she notes. "We didn't used to buy a car without consulting our spouse or brother or dad, and now we go online and do the research — we know what our options are and we do the deal."

Indeed, a 2005 report from research firm Hitwise indicates that women create the majority of traffic to auto finance, registration and vehicle insurance sites.

"The medium allows us to self-help and self-serve and pre-shop and know more than we've ever known before — we're behaving in a totally different fashion than we did even five years ago," Mooney says.

So what, exactly, do online women shoppers want? According to Resource Interactive, the ten key principles are:

  1. The Big Picture. Female shoppers, Mooney says, aren't fans of the piecemeal approach — they prefer to shop with a context in mind: a room layout, a larger trend or a list of qualities grouped for a personality type.

    "While women still go online and type in the search box to look for something specific, a lot of them also go online looking for a starting point," she says.

    "When you ask men what's the most important thing when they look for a big screen TV, they'll say 'size, of course.' A woman would never say that," Mooney says. "What she'd say is 'I really want to know 'what are all the brands? And what are all my choices? Does it come with a warranty?' And how will I get it through the font door of my house?'"

    The Internet tends to reduce information into bits and bytes, but merchants will more effectively reach women if they present their inventory as part of a story or worldview. Does your site provide a vignette?

  2. To Control the Edit. Many merchants are adept at controlling how shoppers see and interact with their product. But, Mooney says, sometimes a woman shopper says "You know what? I want to see all the lamps," or "I want to see all the t-shirts that are short-sleeved and black."

    So instead of forcing shoppers to wade through a predetermined organizational grid, let them control the navigation to look for a product "the way they want to get to it, not the way the retailer wants you to see it."

  3. Details. Details. Details. As much as women like the big picture, when they're ready for the details, "they want there to be richer details," Mooney says. "On a lot of sites, you can click on an image and it gets incrementally bigger, versus filling the screen. They want to see the side view, they want to see it in context, they want to read more narrative copy that really explains the product beyond two lines of type."

     
    Courtesy of Comstock.com
    Many sites provide scant details because this level of content does not actually exist inside the organization.

    "But now we're getting into a new era, and we need new types of content for this medium. Companies still aren't used to developing content for it," she adds.

    Simply porting over content from the catalog is not enough.

  4. Experience by Proxy. "We heard loud and clear that women trust other women," Mooney says. "They trust other women who have tried the service, the brand and have —in their opinion — an expert point of view about it." In other words, it works for companies to present authentic user feedback on their site. "Men don't always care what other people think — but women do."

    The challenge with allowing user feedback, Mooney notes, is that many companies are leery of having customers chat freely about their products on their site. One possible alternative is for e-tailers to present experts on the site to make recommendations.

  5. To Pause and Play. This point is about "understanding that her life is about interruptions," Mooney says. "There are so many Web groups looking at their data and saying 'Oh, they're abandoning the purchase at this part of the process.'"

    They don't realize that those "abandonments" were intended as temporary breaks, not a stopped process.

    In her research, Mooney heard many women say, "They emptied my shopping cart — didn't they know that I was holding it because I was thinking about it?"

    Let her pick up where she left off, Mooney points out.

  6. Act on Inspiration. In many cases, a woman will see a movie, see an ad, see an editorial "and, one of the first things she does is, she goes home and tries to find it on the Web," she says.

    But in many cases, the separate divisions of an e-business aren't aware of what their colleagues are doing — and they don't set up the site to take advantage of spikes in interest. "If your site's going to be featured in all these amazing editorials, you don't want to make a shopper hunt for that relevant product page."

  7. Gratification at the Point of Decision. In Mooney's view, the point of purchase and the point of decision are two different moments; a shopper decides to buy that PC long before she enters her credit card number.

    "What's happening is that women decide they want something and they go through this whole process and then find the dreaded 'out of stock' or disclosures that are too late in the process," she says.

    In short, e-tailers have to be very clear about their pick-up and purchase options.

    "And all this out-of-stock business has got to stop," Mooney says. Many women are so busy, "that when we check something off our lists, we're so relieved, and then to get tapped on the shoulder and told we need to put it back on our list — it's so enraging because we're too busy for that."

  8. Full-service Gifting. "There's so much more that can be done in gifting, in both the pre- and the post-gifting cycle," Mooney says. Some women in her research said, "Sometimes I want to give a gift just to check it off my list, and other times I really want to knock their socks off."

    These shoppers, for example, want both a basic wrapping and a premium wrapping option.

    "Some [sites] say, 'yes you can send a message' — and then it's typed out on a packing slip — like that's really a card." In short, many e-tailers' offering come across as "flat and not very special." There are a lot of retailers who still don't have a gift card that functions as a gift certificate, she says. "And what a huge piece of business that was last year."

    The gift card is particularly popular among women shoppers, Mooney says, because of its convenience.

    One other key gift upgrade: e-tailers can send e-mail confirmation that the gift has indeed arrived — don't leave the shopper wondering.

  9. To Be Remembered. This concept builds on the practice that's already common among e-tailers: saving the information about a shopper that the business needs to know. "But how about building the next generation of profile to be a 'her file,' which is everything she wants to know," Mooney suggests. "It could be her preferences, her notes, her sizes."

    Consider the log-in issue, Mooney says: "Everybody wants you to log-in, and nobody wants to log-in, but what if there was value in doing that?"

    At this point, it often means the consumer gets 25 more pieces of e-mail. However, if in exchange for logging in a customer got special offers, she would be more likely to do so. "The [saved] profile could be value-added to the customer and not just the retailer," adds Mooney.

  10. To Feel Understood. "So many women feel like retailers just don't get them," she says. "They want to walk into a store or click on a site and say, 'Okay, this retailer gets me.'"

Courtesy of Comstock.com
 

Creating this feeling isn't about pre-packaging something in a boardroom, but instead spending time with consumers. "Most companies need to spend more quality, one-on-one time observing customers," says Mooney.

"You can go to a lot of consumer electronics sites and women will tell you, 'This site does not talk to me.' So they go there because they have to instead of because they want to."

Mooney refers to the process of merchants focusing on potential customers as a "deep listening odyssey" — really hearing what the female consumer wants.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of Internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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