What Women Want Online — Part II

By James Maguire | Posted May 10, 2005

In part one of this series, we spoke with Kelly Mooney about the research report she co-authored, "What Women Want." Mooney is a lead partner in Resource Interactive, which conducts extensive research into how online merchants can best reach female shoppers.

In this follow-up piece, we talk with Laura Evans, an executive director at Resource Interactive, about how these theories work in the real world. While the firm's research found ten key principals that are useful in engaging the female consumer, there are many ways to implement these theories — which Resource Interactive also does.

"We use that research to fuel our client work," Evans notes. She has overseen work with some major clients — like Reebok and Restoration Hardware — that seek to more effectively reach the female shopper.


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Although Resource Interactive's clients are mostly of the deep-pocketed variety, Evans points out that the firm's female-centric techniques are applicable to online merchants of many sizes.

"Any business, no matter how big or small, can inspire women through the products on its site," she says.

What follows are examples of work that Evans has directed based on Resource Interactive's "What Women Want" research:

Bath & Body Works
For this site, Resource Interactive developed a shopping list feature. With this tool, shoppers can use their browser to add items to an on-site list, allowing them to easily recall desired items.

Female shoppers often do extensive research online. It benefits a merchant to avoid delaying her purchase once this research is done. "Women like to be gratified at the point of decision," notes Evans. With the shopping list tool, "it was really easy to add these items to a list, print them out, and then take them into a store."

Or, for any site that's Internet-only, the on-site shopping list gives shoppers a "middle ground" — it's not as big a commitment as adding items to a shopping cart, but it helps customers gather potential purchases.

As Evans notes, the shopping list tool can be set up as "registration optional." Those shoppers who are merely browsing don't have to enter any personal information. However, if shoppers want to save the list for future use, they must register. Making registration optional eliminates a barrier, she says; it keeps shoppers from "feeling like they have to put in a bunch of personal information in order to save a few items."

Providing a shopping list tool lets e-tailers gather a wealth of information. Not only do merchants see what shoppers are browsing for, they can add the shoppers who register to the e-mail list.

Express Fashion
For the Express apparel site, Resource Interactive created a changing room. The changing room tool lets shoppers easily view various pants and shirts in combination. So with the click of a mouse, a shopper can see what a pair of stretch denims looks like with an embellished camisole. A shopper can save her combination and also e-mail it to a friend.

This tool leverages a key principal in reaching women shoppers, Evans says: the creation of a "her" file. Female shoppers want to be remembered, but that's about more than collecting data to more effectively market to her, Evans notes. Instead, the changing room is about "creating a file that's really for her, and when she realizes what a benefit she can get from providing her information, she's going to give it up."

All of the combinations in the changing room can be viewed without registering, but if she wants to save it, "that's when she provides information," Evans notes.


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Express Fashion's interactive changing room lets customers mix and match outfits in real time.

The changing room tool lets shoppers e-mail their clothing combinations to a friend, which "gets into that whole aspect of dialogue between women and how much they like to share with each other," Evans notes.

An additional advantage: the changing room tool is one of "the stickiest" for the site," Evans says. "When we first launched this piece we didn't have it in our primary navigation, it was a level deeper, and it was so well trafficked that we moved it to the top."

C.O. Bigelow
Resource Interactive's research indicates that women like to act on inspiration. To leverage this for skin cream retailer C.O. Bigelow, the firm created a highly visible press section, featured on the site's front page. "Women are reading all sorts of things to get information about new products," says Evans. "And anytime products are mentioned in publications or TV shows, the retailers need to leverage that exposure."

"When women come to the site and go 'what was that lemon stuff that I saw somewhere?' they can connect right away when they see it in the press section — they can read about the exposure then click through to the product," she says.

Additionally, for women who come to the site and didn't see it in the press, they may very well look at the section and think, "'Wow, look at all the press — maybe I should try it,'" Evan says.

The use of the press section can vary depending on timing, she notes. "You can make it a big promotion on the front door of the site, or not." The point is getting the most out of your PR.

Reebok
Resource Interactive's research found that women shoppers like "details, details, details," when browsing for purchases. But many merchants struggle with the issue of how much detail to offer. "When you flood a screen with details it really makes it hard for the consumer to focus on any one thing," says Evans. "You give them so much information that they don't read anything."

Resource Interactive developed a way for Reebok to balance the level of detail. That is, a rich mix without drowning the consumer.


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Restoration Hardware relies on the "big picture" theme to help customers see how products look up close and in different combinations.

In the Reebok site's women's shoe section, the site presents both a side and bottom view of the running shoe. With this first view, the caption provides just the name of the shoe and price. "You're not overwhelmed with too much detail," Evans notes. However, shoppers who want more information can click through to a page that offers a plethora of data: all features, benefits, and specifications, each of which can be explored. This secondary page also lets shoppers view a shoe in different colors and to see a greatly expanded photo.

This multi-level presentation lets shoppers "control the edit," Evan notes. "It's a slow release of information. If they want to go deeper, they can. And if they don't — if all they want to know is how cool this shoe looks — then that's all they need."

Restoration Hardware
"One of the things we found with women is that they really tend to gravitate to retailers who give them the big picture," Evans says. Merchants should "give her a place to start off, and feed her some of those ideas." Depending on the consumer, Evans notes, she may take those ideas literally, or she may chose to mix and match according to her own vision.

In either case, it's helpful to provide a context, she says. Restoration Hardware, provides that big picture by showing a number of completed room settings, then offering details about each item. Individual items are placed in the context of an attractively assembled scenario, which can be purchased outright or on a piece-by-piece basis.

On the left side of the screen, shoppers see a large photo of the complete ensemble. To the right, they see small photos of individual items within that layout. Rolling over the small photos expands that limited view to fill the larger photo's section.

"You can see everything from a full dining set to some of the accessories and pillows and candles," she says. "It puts together a little more of a story around the collection."

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

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