It’s official: A woman’s place is online. A recent study by Media Metrix and Jupiter Communications tells us that the population of women on the Internet in the United States, at least is surpassing the male population. This news has tremendous impact on online marketers, particularly those who have focused their marketing efforts and budgets on attracting and retaining customers in traditionally male-dominated markets: music and electronics.

Anyone that has done marketing for more than a nanosecond knows that women make the vast majority of large purchase decisions in the household:

  • About 75 percent of health-care decisions come from women
  • 80 percent of car purchases are influenced by women

But before you get all excited and create a new section on your site called “Does He Love You? Take Our Test!” remember that while women make up over half the online audience, only a third of them make purchases online versus nearly half of men.

In the anthropological tradition of self-preservation, women are more careful shoppers. Privacy and transaction security are both major indicators of whether women will purchase something on a site:

  • Almost 90 percent of online women say that guaranteed transaction security influences their repeat visits to online shopping sites, and
  • 67 percent of online women report that published privacy policies encourages them to return to online shopping sites.

It Takes an iVillage

While we’re not proponents of sweeping generalities (and the subsequent characterizations and assumptions), the research does indicate that women are leaning toward the stereotypical “family” sites.

Women, presumably those inclined to have children, have flooded sites like babygear.com, ibaby.com and pampers.com.

The most popular destination for women ages 55 and older is the American Association of Retired Persons site. Older women are also converging on many genealogical sites such as familytreemaker.com and familyhistory.com.

In the book “You Just Dont Understand!” linguistics professor Deborah Tannen says that for most women, “the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships.”

Translating this concept to the web may suggest that women are also inclined to be more loyal to sites that provide a community, or are more adept at developing relationships through customer service and other strategies.

There’s a saying that goes, “A cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” This statement may hold true for women, but in reverse: Their purchase decisions may be dictated by their sense of value, not just price. In other words, issues like privacy and security, customer service and a sense of community may dictate where they put their money.

Granted, women’s affinity sites like women.com and iVillage.com have suffered some black eyes lately, with women.com stocks plummeting like other e-stocks from a 12-month high of $24 to less than $2. But these sites are still often quoted as the most visited sites among women.

My Site’s Bigger Than Your Site

In his article, “The Feminine Net,” ClickZ writer Martin Lindstrom suggests, “We have reached a level where the quality of what we are saying, how we are saying it, and at what time we are saying it, is beginning to be important – more so than the quantity of sites and pages dominating our assessments.”

Indeed, women are more likely interested in establishing those relationships with sites they can trust. And, frankly, you just can’t trust a company that can’t spell. Likewise, e-commerce sites must position themselves as being there to serve the customer (rather than for self-interests or to look cool).

So the research tells us that women are still hanging out in the equivalent of the self-help aisle of the Internet. However, the more important issue to remember is that women will be better customers if your site is a better provider of service, community, and security regardless of your business.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.