It happened. The scales have been tipped. According to The Wall Street Journal, the new online shopper is 48 years old and predominantly female (57 percent). Best of all, she's ready to shop, spending about $276 online in a three month period.
What does this mean to purveyors of online content? I'd say it signals a need for more gender awareness. If you're not targeting your site to women, you might want to consider swinging that way. But don't... oh please, I beg of you... fall into gender stereotypes.
First, consider the statistics. According to Forrester Research (as reported in The Journal), average household income of the new Web shopper is $52,300. Many (but not all) of these new shoppers (42 percent) have children under 18, and 39 percent have a college degree.
Interestingly, "new shoppers" interviewed for the article cite lack of time as their number one incentive for Web surfing. Many also report e-commerce wariness as their reason for not shopping online sooner.
How does one target a cautious, thoughtful woman shopper? First, eschew stereotypes:
If you're old enough to remember "ring around the collar," you're old enough to know better. Once upon a time, in an awful TV spot wherein a dirty collar taunts a dutiful wife on laundry day. No matter how hard she scrubs, the nasty shirt sings, "Ring around the collar." I shudder to think any present-day marcom professional would stoop to using a message this demeaning. There are still plenty of messages that scold or put women down. Don't try it. The same goes for putting down the men. Honestly, how many times can we milk the joke about men who won't ask for directions?
Ditch the fertility goddess. Have you noticed? Not all women between the ages of 25 and 50 care for children. Don't assume Woman equals Mom. Plenty of women in this demographic couldn't (and wouldn't care to) diaper a child if their lives depended on it. Also, don't assume women in the 50-plus age range sit around bemoaning signs and symptoms of menopause. Most topics that interest women cross age boundaries.
Language counts. We all know the U.S. "founding fathers" declared that "all men are created equal." Blame it on the times, but they made a serious slip of the quill discounting half the population. Unfortunately, 227 years later, we're still making the same mistakes. Don't assume words such as "mankind" or phrases such as "brotherhood of man" are all-inclusive. The same goes for stereotypical phrases that still haunt the vernacular. What, exactly, does "old wives' tale" mean? Be mindful of women's professional choices. The phrase "career woman" should have been shelved at least a decade ago and replaced by "professional," "executive," or "business person." The same goes for "housewife," a designation that should be substituted with "homemaker" now men have assumed more household responsibilities.
Respect time constraints. Don't assume women have all the time in the world. Most don't. Most, if not all, have no time for poor customer service, poor navigation, and content-poor Web sites. Selling a red shirt that looks nice in a tiny photo? That's hardly enough information for most female shoppers. Provide enough details (Cotton or polyester? Where was it made? Washable?) for her to make a quick and informed decision. In the words of marketing futurist Faith Popcorn, "If women have to go out of their way to track you down... if you make them jump through hoops to get service... if your attitude is take-it-or-leave-it... well they'll leave it -- and take their billions of dollars elsewhere."
Trusted brick-and-mortars should do well. If you're a brick-and-mortar that always respected female customers, you should do just fine with "new shoppers" online. The trick is to offer a little extra on the Web. Intriguing content, special deals, and customer reviews are welcome additions.
Know the power of networking. Women in general aren't shy when it comes to talking to friends and acquaintances about bad customer service, shoddy products, or a truly terrible online experience. If you don't pay attention to details, you risk losing everyone in a displeased customer's network of friends and associates.
Go out and target the latest Web converts. But if I ever chance upon content remotely similar to that "ring around the collar" shtick, you're going to hear from me!
Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.