What Wired Women Want: Part 2

As you can probably imagine, I received some pretty interesting email after I delved into the topic of women and the web last week.

Not that I didn’t expect it I did. But what I didn’t expect were some of the incredible (and humbling) insights that dropped in my mailbox.

One of the most acute came from a woman who followed a link from my article to my company’s web site:

    Subject: Wired women don’t want to be distracted by gizmology!

    Maybe it’s late in the day, but I found it almost impossible to read your articles on the screen, as the white script on grey background just doesn’t offer enough contrast. You might also be interested to know that numerous women on our listserv have commented that websites that are “flashing” and “noisy” are pervasively designed by and seem to appeal to 20-something males and hold very little appeal to many women. Women who are careerists, mothers, and the major household consumers just don’t have time for flashy gizmos and sites that leave us guessing where to push and how to make the movement stop! Toys are for boys and we just don’t get the gimmicky garbage and macho blitz of more and more websites. If Sean is right and women want interactive relationships from the Net, designers are going to have to learn how to stop alienating them with gadgetry.

While I blushed from chagrin (and passed her comments on to our designers to read as we work on a new design), I realized that what she said applies to many of us in the industry. And it prodded me to do some more research into how women are using the web and how they behave as consumers. It also got me thinking about how we as e-marketers need to respond to these trends.

Some interesting facts:

  • Women spend less time on the web than men. A Neilsen//NetRatings study recently revealed that men spend an average of 22 hours per week at work on the Net, while women spend 18 hours. Men spend more time online at home, too: ten hours per week as opposed to eight hours per week for women.

  • Online security concerns tend to discourage women from shopping online. A CyberDialogue study about women’s buying habits in January revealed that women who doubt the security of online transactions spend nearly 50 percent less than women who aren’t concerned about security. Nearly 90 percent of wired women say that security guarantees would entice them to shop, and clearly posted privacy policies would help 67 percent decide to shop on a particular site. Almost 75 percent of women Net users haven’t shopped online yet as opposed to nearly half of the online male population.

  • Women are the primary ISP decision makers. A report from the National Foundation for Women Business Owners shows that women are the primary decision makers about ISPs in the home.

  • Women are attracted to e-commerce that streamlines their lives. The same NFWBO study found that leisure products, computer equipment and travel are the most popular purchases, while online banking and bill paying services are used by over one-third of all businesswomen.

  • Home and family sites seem to be the most popular among online women. A January 18 study by AdRelevance revealed that online women frequent women’s portals; toy retailers, health sites, and retail savings sites are the most popular.

  • Addressing the needs of women online can be very lucrative. A Harris Interactive study found that women control 75 percent of household finances and are responsible for 80 percent of purchasing decisions. Considering that nearly half the online population is now female, this represents a huge market.

So how can we respond to these trends? Women are typically juggling more lives than a cat (see Faith Popcorn’s “99 Lives” trend) and don’t have time for gizmos and techno gadgets. They’re concerned about security and privacy. The financial pants-wearing at home is clearly done by women, and women are looking for sites that make their lives easier and help them address the demands of work, home, and family. And as I pointed out last week, they’re looking for relationships and information online, not hype.

Considering all these facts, it’s amazing that more advertisers aren’t responding. Heck, you don’t have to look any further than the typical guy-oriented ISP ad featuring somebody screaming or being blown away or zooming somewhere to see this in action.

To be successful in the future, e-marketers are going to have to wake up to the fact that women are online in large numbers and, more often than not, hold the wallet. Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Simplify your site. I’ve written extensively before about how complicated e-commerce sites stifle… well, commerce. Make your stuff easy to buy. Provide information and inroads to other customers’ input. Think simple, not whiz-bang.

  2. Respect privacy and security. Post a privacy policy and live by it. Don’t fall into gimmicky methods of tricking users into revealing personal information. Remind people at every turn how secure their transaction is and then take great pains to safeguard that transaction.
  3. Think information and service, not persuasion. Just the facts, quickly loading pages, and drill-down options. Don’t force your users into spending a good chunk of their rapidly dwindling time online figuring out how to buy your stuff.
  4. Recognize the demands placed on women by home, family and work and strive to respond to them. Don’t assume that your site is the most important thing in anyone’s life. It isn’t. Try to suggest solutions to analog world problems.
  5. Bring people into the mix. Incorporate dynamic FAQ customer service tools (check out RightNow Technologies for a great example) where real people can answer questions posed by real visitors. Incorporate live customer support tools that don’t require your users to fool with a lot of technology.
  6. Encourage relationships between your customers. Open up your process. Invite user feedback, post it, and then act on it. Encourage your users to swap hints and tips with each other and be as open with the criticism as with the praises.
  7. Respect the purchasing power of women. They’re not going to buy on a whim or without the right information.
  8. Don’t force the issue. Provide a way for comparison shopping or saving a transaction in progress. Women have a lot of stuff to deal with in their lives if you can make it easy for them to come back to your site and pick up where they left off, it’ll help.
  9. Provide a way for users to find others like themselves who can help in the decision. A recent Yankelovich Monitor study revealed that 71 percent of Americans “feel a real need to know more people whose outlook on life and sense of values are similar to their own.” Try to facilitate the process.
  10. Listen. Respond. Take criticism and act on it.

Will these tips address all the issues women have online? I doubt it. But it’s time to wake up to the fact that wired women hold a lot of power (and a lot of cash), and that we better be ready to respond to their needs if we’re going to succeed.

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