E commerce
Whose the boss ?

Online it comes down to one factor, who controls the buying experience? Whoever does the most buying of course, they are " the boss" a website must cater to. In the early days of the Internet, that boss was a man, and most sites who have been online a while, reflect that, that is no longer true however, it's time to meet the new boss.

Ok, according to the statistics the boss is ? Women, ages 22-54, the bulk of which are in the middle range of 35 to 50.

They are the ones who make or influence 80% or more of the buying decisions, for just about everything that walks in the door of your average household, and such woman have always been the leaders for buying, in the brick and mortar shops. Now the web is starting to feel the impact of these women.

So, lets get to know her for a moment and figure out what that means in terms of your website.

First off, sheer numbers, they out number men online, three to one. So if you have to favor a gender for the theme for your site, the one to pick is primarily female, as two out of three of your viewers, that hit your door, will be a woman.

Trim the fluff:

Granted, to appeal to women you are likely to use color themes ( mainly cool/warm colors VS the gray or hard colors ) and more rounded graphics vs blocked out concepts. Keep in mind however, we are not talking all pinks and flowers here, unless it's appropriate for the sites content.

Women are as much high power viewers as men, they want information, not window dressing. Access to the information is more important to them than the package it is in. Make it possible for them to get in, and get out, with the least amount of frustration ... then work on making it visually appealing. The form must follow function, then dress it up, not the other way around.

Make the experience a good one:

Women talk to each other, so every success or failure to serve their needs, they tell other women, they are three times as likely to share information with others vs men. If they find a good place to shop, off they go to email their friends, and tell them all about it. They can be your best form of "word of mouth" advertisement.

So job one is to make her experience with your shop a memorable one, that she wants to share with others, if she's happy with your services, she will tell others. Make note however, if she's Unhappy with it, she will still tell others.

Women compare:

They are shopper savvy, they research purchases carefully before they buy, so if you don't provide the information they need to make an informed choice, click goes the mouse for some other site that will give them that information.

If your goods cannot stand up to a side by side comparison, you will likely lose the bid for her shopping dollars. To have a dozen windows open, all comparing the same goods, side by side, is nothing unusual for a female net shopper, so your competing directly with your competitors, in real time, with a head to head comparison. So know your competitors, and strive to provider her with a better deal, and more of the details, than your competition.

Give her the details:

It's all about the details, a man might be sold on the new car, for example, based on how it looks, or it's engine power or technical specifications. For a woman shopper, this would not be enough information. She wants to know, what are all the fees, what are the up front costs, the payments, the insurance costs, is there a maintenance contract ? etc. etc. etc., You generally won't find a woman buying any large ticket item, without knowing all the details. Further, even for a small purchase, she wants the same details, if they are applicable. A wise site gives her that.

Let her control the experience:

A lot of retailers try and steer the viewer to what THEY want them to see. Whereas a woman wants to be able to sort out the product by her own agenda.

Example: The seller might want to sell the new black logo splashed T-shirt this week and tries to funnel the viewer to that item, their lady viewer however, says, show me everything you have in short sleeved pink jersey. Make it hard for her to do this kind of sorting, and she will go elsewhere, so the ability to sort out the products offered, by a personal agenda, with a flexible search that's easy to use, matters a great deal to your female viewer.

Help her do the research:

Most online female shoppers ( 57%) do both the product research and shopping online. While others, do their research online, and then go to a live store to buy the item. So you have to figure in both aspects, especially if your website is the front for your brick and mortar shop.

Put in maps to the store, help her find you, put most of what you sell online, not just a select few items. This goes back to, do not try and steer the experience for her, put it all out there, and let her make the choice.

She is not that impressed by your selection of high dollar printers for example, when what she wants right now is to know the price for a box full of ink pens. She might look at the printers, and store that information away for later. But she will be annoyed that she could not find what she was looking for online, because you have opted out of the smaller items, in favor of the large ticket items. ( Favoring large ticket, high profile items appeals more often to men, not women )

Do not tell her what to do: Forced data

By this I mean, do not put in there, her password or log in name, has to be X amount long, or must contain upper and lower case and numbers for example. Women want to control the input, and control what her passwords etc. are. No one wants to have to get a password keeper program to keep track of all the passwords. Women, like men, tend to use one of a half a dozen passwords, or variations of those words. Don't make her have to write one that's in binary here, and hard to remember. Make it too cumbersome, and she will give up on it and go elsewhere that lets her control the situation her own way.

The same is true for forced log ons, email forms that force you to put in X data, before it will allow you to send it etc. In short if you are forcing her into doing things YOUR way and only your way, without a very good and obvious reason to do so, you are likely making a mistake.

Time Factors:

Most online shopping by women, is usually done between the hours of 5 PM and 12 AM, meaning after the work day is done, but this time is not one continuous piece. It's often interrupted time, by all the typical things that might happen in an average household, weather she has children or not. So plan for this, make it possible for her to come back, and take up right were she left off.

Wish lists and remembered information:

This is a good thing to most women, to be able to come back to a site later and find the items they put in the cart or wish list, are still there, while they went away, and considered the purchase. This is very common female buying behavior.

We might put a thing in the cart a half a dozen times, before we finally buy it. So, remembering her, her size, her financial information, so she doesn't have to put all that in again, is the best thing you can do, if your cart permits it.

An abandoned cart does not always mean you have been discarded as a provider, it may mean she had to go deal with something else, or wants to think about it for a while, and will get back to it. If you wipe the cart as soon as she leaves it without a completed purchase, and she comes back to find everything gone, she will be disappointed in her expectations. (Cart or wish list permanence, also tends to apply to men, but not to as large a degree, as women)

Women don't make immediate gratification purchases, contrary to popular opinion, ( that's actually more of a guy thing ) just the opposite in fact. She will think long and hard about that first buy from you. However, if you win her loyalty, she will be back to buy more.

Test purchases: Notice to make small purchases easy.

Women tend to make a "test" purchase from any new merchant they have not bought from before, meaning they will buy some small item from you first.
She wants to see how you handle the transaction, how accurately it's charged to her account. How fast does she get it, is it what she expected, did it arrive intact ?

However, a common experience online is small purchases are often penalized by high shipping rates, for example, if the site uses special package services which do a forced flat rate Vs the real cost of the item to send by weight. This will make your woman buyer balk at making the purchase. She wants to "test the water" with you, and if she cannot get that one small item, without being penalized with a higher than reasonable shipping rate ? ... Click goes the mouse. 

There are times it is impossible to avoid doing this, for example your a 3rd party seller and have to pay flat rates for anything you order to be shipped to the customer and must pass that cost along. If this is the case, tell her, right up front this is going to happen, and tell her why.

The positive side is, if you pass this test purchase, what you will tend to see, are many more purchases from her, often a lot more. The dollar value she spends, tends to increase over time, as her experience, and confidence, with your site grows.

Example: Today, she's getting just one ink cartridge, if that goes all right, then next time maybe she will buy several of them, and some printer paper, after that, some programs, or CD's, and several mts down the road, when her printer or fax machine needs replacement, she's likely to get that from you too. It's a progression, but one that will not take place, if you stop her stone cold from making that first small test buy.

What they buy:

Their shopping online is often for themselves, about ( 51%), whereas time spent shopping in the brick and mortar stores, is more focused on buying for the family. Women tend to buy online for day to day needs, and for personal items, vs big ticket items, there are exceptions to this of course.

Women shop more for price, than brand. They have good brand sense, and will stick like glue to a given brand, if they have good reason to, but over all their shopping habits are determined by who can bring them the best product, for the least price, with the least amount of hassle. So keyword for brand names on your site yes, but don't let that be the only offering you provide her. Give her choices.

Women don't spend as much time online:

Compared to men, they spend less over all time online, so what time they do spend, is valuable to them. To a site holder this means making every moment of her time count, and not wasting it with cumbersome navigation, or site tactics that create unneeded moments spent to get to the information they are after. If the details are buried too deep, meaning more than 2-3 clicks away from the main page, she is less likely to dig that far to find it.

Negative experiences:

About a 1/3 of these ladies have had negative experiences online, they never got their order, unsecured shopping carts let their identity be stolen, the item they got was not what the picture showed online, so these are words or warning to the e-tailer, make sure all orders are handled correctly, use a safe and secure ordering system, and be positive the image online shows the item in as true to life a form, as possible.

Security issues:

Women are much more concerned with online security and identity or card theft, than men. Transaction security is a primary concern, so your best defense is a sound, secure shopping cart, a good privacy policy, and over all credibility factors, and make this very plain to the viewer. If a woman does not feel at least 95% positive about your site, and how you will handle their security, they will hesitate to buy from you.

A word to the wise, keep her informed, by that I mean, if she orders something, confirm it, immediately. Give her updates on the progress of the order. Charge her account correctly and quickly, and ship the item as rapidly as possible, give her a time frame, and stick to it. The more time you spend doing any of these things, or the longer you make her wait for confirmation, and visible charges she can verify ( meaning she was charged exactly what she expected to be charged, for exactly what she ordered ), is that much more time she is insecure about the purchase.

So rule one, do NOT make her wait any longer than need be, for any part of the process. If there must be a delay, tell her about it, and tell her "good" reasons for the delay.

Kiss of death, out of stock merchandise:

The choice to buy is made, long before the sale is rung up. They already want whatever it is, they just have decided to get it from you. If they get all way into the order process to buy to only THEN be told it's out of stock, you are going to have one frustrated lady on the other end.

And she will remember that. Today's woman is busy, and doesn't have time to be put on hold unexpectedly. If you don't have the product or it's on back order, say so up front, don't make her waste her time in filling out the order form, for a product she can not get right now.

Extended orders or pre order:

This is a sub section to out of stock. This is a commonly seen tactic on the net, to pre order an up coming item, soon to be published books are a common example. This is almost a waste of time to offer this to the female buyer, who are the largest buyers of online books by the way.

If you cannot give a firm date as to when you will have the item, or when you will be able to ship it, you are wasting your time and site space. As the female buyer is not going to put money up, unless you have the merchandise, as a rule, although she might put it on her wish list. Your best bet is to wait until the item is really available, then put it online.

As a last word or two, lets not forget the gentlemen here:

Men as a rule, in the real world, tend to hate shopping, however, online shopping is quite another matter, as the man is in more control of this situation. Unlike in real life shopping environments, where he often feels out of place. Research shows that men are shopping more due to the Internet. Surprisingly enough, he wants a great many of he same things that his female counterpart wants.

There are some differences however:

Men tend to be single task oriented:

If they are out to buy X, that is all they want to think about. They are not that interested in the large view, or multi tasking, they want to do the research, in that they are just as much, if not more, detail interested as women, but for very different reasons. They want to find the best X there is, and buy it, no hassles, no nonsense, they don't care nearly as much about price, as they do quality. A buy now button, is right up their alley.

So give them reviews of the product details, give them technical specifications, and other in-depth details, show them that yours is the best X there is, and they are likely to buy it. For most men, shopping is in the nature of an investment.

Men tend to out spend women in one shot:

In terms of larger ticket items, men tend to spend more at one time, in terms of making larger purchases. If what you sell is in this category, your focus might be better served to cater to men, more than women. ( do not make the mistake of thinking however, that women do not buy such goods, they do, they just don't tend to buy them online, as often as men, so don't leave your female buyer out of the equation when laying out your site plan )

Men will search for a given brand:

Men depend more on brand names, than women, so your marketing to men should clearly label, and be keyworded for specific brand names to show up in the search engine results.

Age differences:

Young men tend to be fashion oriented, into thecno toys, and the latest trend in high profile gear, just like their young female counterpart. Whereas older men tend to be the higher dollar spenders.

Time factors:

Men over all, spend more time online than do women. They do so between the hours of 8 PM and midnight, with a large focus on the weekend hours. Men tend to use the net for personal interest, sports or news, for example: Men will spend as much time online, as they do watching television, often focused on the same items. So provide content that matches their interests.

More soon

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