We Are Women, Hear Us Click

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A few years ago, Jerry Seinfeld observed that men and women have different ways of watching television. Men, he noted, are the hunters, constantly changing channels looking for the ultimate prize. Women are nesters who settle on a semi-appealing program and then allow it to grow on them.

While those theories may never find their way into a sociology textbook, they are amazingly consistent with the current trends of the Internet. According to Media Metrix, New York, women may account for as much as 48 percent of all online users, and last holiday season they were responsible for a whopping 60 percent of all online purchases. Yet women account for only 33 percent of all page views and, on average, bookmark only 12 pages (as opposed to an average of 55 bookmarks for men). Hence, Doug McFarland of Media Metrix concluded that while women may visit fewer sites, their loyalty to these sites is strong.

If this is true, then marketers must be especially savvy when marketing to women. Since women seem more interested than their male counterparts in brand loyalty, it is important to reach them when they first come online. While it may seem that a certain degree of opportunity has slipped away in this regard, there are still thousands of women who come online for the first time each day. After all, only 39 percent of U.S. women 16 or older are online. That leaves more than 60 percent of the American female population still up for grabs.

Marketing savvy is especially crucial for reaching women online when you consider that their purchasing tends to skew toward gender-neutral items. According to recent data, the items women buy most often online are books, music and toys. Not exactly the easiest or most obvious categories to target to female-only shoppers. So, how can businesses attract and keep female customers? One answer is to alleviate security concerns. Male online shoppers are 33 percent more likely to think that online shopping is "safe and secure" than their female counterparts. Furthermore, when asked what conditions would make them more likely to buy online, "guaranteed credit card security" was the most common answer given by female online buyers.

The need to reach out to loyal female shoppers goes well beyond the pure dollars they represent. An incredible 81 percent of female online buyers were satisfied with their most recent purchases. This, in all likelihood, translated into referrals, positive publicity and repeat business. Knowing this, it is a wonder that gender-neutral sites do not devote a larger portion of their budget to strategically targeting women. As demonstrated here, the bang-for-the-buck return on the marketing dollar should be sweet music to any CEO's ears.

Even when they are not buying online, women are relying more on the Internet for their offline shopping. Media Metrix reports that 66 percent of all female shoppers said they would not make a major purchase without first researching it online. Therefore, it is imperative that all sites targeting female shoppers be consistent with their offline sales channels. If not, the Internet has the potential to become a foe rather than a friend.

Who knows how many women have bought from a site because its latest sale items were featured prominently while its competitors' were not? Moreover, when a site advertises prices that differ from those in the actual stores or day-of advertisements, the retailer looks disorganized at best and dishonest at worst. The effort and dollars spent maintaining multichannel consistency are small prices to pay for attracting women to a retailer's site -- especially since once women start buying at a site, they are likely to continue shopping there.

On another note, this statistic shows that while women often "marry and settle down" with select sites, they are not afraid to "date a little" before making a commitment. In short: Appearance and presentation count as much in e-commerce as they would in a dating situation. This is not to say that major retail sites widely ignore the look of their sites, but it is obvious that some are cleaner, more buttoned-up and convenient to use, as well as intuitive to a shopper's needs.

E-commerce can be a potential blessing to the women of the world. Whether it is the busy working mother or the college student who wishes to shop from her dorm, there are many reasons and opportunities for women to go online as a primary solution for their purchasing needs. As the number of women online increases exponentially, this will translate into major revenue dollars for the e-tailers that know how to properly reach the fairer sex. The directions are simple: Show up early, dress properly and be honest. It is the execution that will separate the winners from the losers.

• Sandy Keeling-Wainwright is vice president of marketing at e-centives Inc., Bethesda, MD, an online direct marketing infrastructure company. Reach her at Skeeling-wainwright@e-centives.com.

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