Chapter 9: The Internetsavvy Woman - Connecting with her Online


Chapter 9: The Internetsavvy Woman ”Connecting with her Online

Overview

Spend a day with even a handful of American women and you'll see that going online has become a way of life for them ”for gathering information, shopping and communicating with friends and family. So, to reach women where they are already assembling, you have to go online too.

Consumers are heading online in huge numbers . In fact, 10 million U.S. consumers were predicted to have gone onto the Internet during 2003, a growth of 6.5 percent over 2002. [1] To put that into perspective, in 2004 there are nearly two times as many online households as off-line households. What a difference a few years make!

More specifically , women comprise a slight majority of the total U.S. at-home Web population ”52 percent female versus 48 percent male. [2] And, there's every indication that their numbers online will continue to increase rapidly .

Women are online for both community and shopping. In December 2002 alone, women's online communities, including sites like iVillage.com and Womensforum.com, reached approximately 30 percent of all female Internet users age 25 to 64, attracting a total of nearly 35 million visitors . [3] The segment of the online population that actually shops there, the majority of which is women, will grow 29 percent, from 93 million in 2002 to 121 million in 2005. [4] The amount online shoppers in general will spend at e-retail will skyrocket 93 percent, from $45.5 billion in 2002 to $88.1 billion in 2005.

[1] According to New York-based eMarketer, Inc., as reported on Internetretailer.com, February 12, 2003, http://www.internetretailer.com/dailynews.asp?id=8626. Also see http://www.emarketer.com/.

[2] Nielsen \\NetRatings, New York, May 2001, http://www.nielsennetratings.com.

[3] ComScore Media Metrix, 2002, http://www.comscore.com.

[4] North America E-Commerce: B2C & B2B , report (New York: eMarketer, Inc., 2003), http://www.emarketer.com.



How Do Women View and Use the Internet?

Though women make or influence the bulk of consumer purchases in the United States today, they no longer have much time to devote to traditional shopping, driving from store to store, so they are heading online. And, even given their initial privacy and security concerns, women seem to be rapidly gaining comfort shopping online.

To serve their preferences and to keep these savvy women lingering longer, Web sites will have to improve in functionality and customer experience. Web sites will also have to compete with the other media a woman is likely to be using simultaneously . In fact, and according to BIGresearch, a leader in online marketing intelligence, the Internet is the medium least likely to command the undivided attention of either working women or young momswith 67 percent of women who go online regularly or occasionally doing so while also watching television. [5]

Giving women control online of how they receive information and interact with your company is hugely important to serving them well. When you address the bulk of their technology comfort anxiety right from the start, and guide them into more savvy use of your site (and the Internet in general), they can't help but love your brand.

By accommodating their range of Internet access (dial-up to broadband) and providing options other than downloading software, your awareness of the ways women deal with technology will be appreciated by your customers. If you give women a sense of control in their interactions with your site, they'll more likely remain loyal to your brand over time. And, once women know they've got some control, their view of the role the Internet plays in their lives becomes very positive.

The following are areas you can address to better reach both your high- and low-tech customers:

Connection speed. What percentage of your customers have broad- band access? It might be worth having regular access to a computer without a high-speed connection to get a sense of how your site performs for this group . In addition, if most of your customers use AOL, make sure you have accommodated their different e-mail needs as well.

Software download alternatives. Since a significant group of your desired consumer base will not bother to view materials and demos that require software downloads, give them e-mail options or other ways to get the information they need from your company.

Samples and examples. Give them a glimpse of the big picture in advance, and many women will feel more comfortable entering into a new process or new brand relationship. For example, offer an initial sample e-mail from your e-mail training series or provide a step-by-step outline for participating in a Webinar (Web seminar), with testimonials from other women about how great and easy it was to do. An off-line example of this concept would be the way home improvement stores provide a floor display of a fully assembled kitchen or bathroom to provide a context and a visual example of utilizing the individual materials and products for sale. Then, when a woman comes into the store for a light fixture, for example, she'll more likely consider remodeling an entire bathroom, or at least feel inspired to buy a few more items for that room. (Displaying the big picture can be very effective indeed.)

Navigation control and viewing options. Provide both high- and low-tech options (watch streaming video or read text), as well as beginner and advanced paths through your process (read or skip introductions , view demos or go straight to checkout).

Human touch in customer service. Just because it can all be done on the Web does not mean that high-tech is the best choice for your customers. If women are more likely to be the buyers of your products, give them access to a human connection wherever possible. Just knowing it is there is a plus. Also, consider listing your brand's designated experts' e-mail addresses on your site in order to create the personal touch and stronger brand relationships for higher quality buying opportunities (instead of info @yourcompany.com, display NancyJones@yourcompany.com, even if "Nancy Jones" is your customer support group).

E-mail as the common denominator. If women customers are not taking advantage of your site's technology-driven bells and whistles, you should consider meeting their needs via e-mail. E-mail is a comfortable and valued tool for those women who are new to what the online world can do, especially as it helps with day-to-day communication with family and friends . It may be worth a test to see how much participation in a new program or seminar increases when you use e-mail instead of forcing software downloads or other technological extras.

INTERNET = TOOL, FRIEND AND ADVISOR

It's increasingly difficult, if not impossible , for most people to bank and shop during traditional retail hours. Even with so many information and entertainment media channels available, women seem drawn to simplicity and efficiency in their multiple- constituent and multiple-role lives.

In many ways, the Internet has become a timesaving appliance for women. They use the Web as a twenty-four- hour resource to streamline their information gathering and to stay in touch with friends who are in that same fully booked situation. In a 2002 study, late Baby Boomer and early Gen Y women, in particular, were more likely than men of all ages to agree that they are doing more shopping on the Internet than ever before. [6]

Most women begin their online experience by tapping into the "Internet as friend" by trying e-mail. Then, they quickly get up to speed and seamlessly incorporate e-mail and online research into their daily connections with family, friends, colleagues and businessesmaking the Internet their tool and advisor, as well.

INTERNET = SHOPPING EFFICIENCIES

Off-line shopping can go from being a huge pain, running in and out of stores to buy household and family items, to being pleasurable for its social, "girlfriend fun" way. But, the Internet is quite a different realm for shopping. For many women, it's more about getting online, making the purchase and proceeding to the next task. Until technology advances beyond methods of sharing a page with a friend (which we're sure it will), the social aspects of shopping have not yet quite transitioned online.

In fact, women usually enter into the Internet buying process with a serious mission in mind. They've compiled their list (for example, shoes for Junior, wedding present for Sis, new speakers for the kitchen), done their research and now are strategically heading to the best site to make their purchases.

Developing intuitive e-commerce is a crucial part of making sure your site contributes to the efficiency of a woman's time shopping online. It's a matter of designing your site according to the way women think when making purchases in your industry. REI.com, for example, makes shopping easy, indeed, by organizing products by sport and in groupings like "Gear Checklist" and "How To Choose." The way the information and products are organized is so helpful, we go to the site just to help pack for a hiking trip whether or not we are buying gear. (Of course, we'd then likely buy anything we were missing from REI.com.)

Internet technology, combined with some study of how women buy and how to make the experience on your site intuitive, makes shopping online efficient and secure, in general. For that, all those women who squeeze shopping into the free corners of their day are thankful.

WOMEN AND MEN SWITCH SHOPPING BEHAVIORS ONLINE

Women utilizing the Internet as tool and advisor become ultraproficient online. They know just what they want and quickly make their purchases. This behavior seems like the opposite of their more social shopping behavior off-line, where roaming the aisles can be considered a carefree, relaxing pleasure or a social occasion with friends.

In contrast, men are more likely to meander and surf online, but they know exactly where to go in the mall to buy the thing they need and then run (and we mean run) out. This off-line shopping behavior may not apply when men are shopping at electronics or computer or gadget stores, however.

It is interesting to consider how men and women seem to switch their buying behaviors from off-line to online. Perhaps we can learn more from Envirosell president and founder Paco Underhill, who notes this difference between each gender's interest or use of offline technology in his book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping : "Everywhere in the world of hardware and software, the sexes swap places: Men love to browse and wander while women are purposeful, impossible to distract while they look for what they need." [7]

For example, at a computer software store studied by Envirosell, the shoppers were mainly male, but the percentage of shoppers who actually made a purchase was highest among women. This fact seems to be the result of women being, as Underhill puts it, "in the store with some practical mission to carry out, not just to daydream over a new Zip drive or scanner. Most women would rather just learn what they need to know to use the damn thing."

Furthermore, according to Underhill, women "take technologies and turn them into appliances. They strip even the fanciest gizmo of all that is mysterious and jargony in order to determine its usefulness . Women look at technology and see its purpose, its reason what it can do." For men, technology can often be viewed as more of a toy and a rich source of entertainment, which might explain the reversal in shopping behavior online.

As consumers, women demand more than men from the promise of a product or service, including the complete shopping experience surrounding the buy. Marketers need to face the fact that although women as a group are by no means easy to reach (we've never said they were), the Internet channel can likely provide the greatest access to their buying minds.

WOMEN'S ROLES ONLINE

As we discussed in Chapter 5, "Shaping the Generations," women lead multiple lives with overlapping, complex responsibilities and interests. These many factors shape their off-line buying behavior, but also hugely affect their reasons for going online and how they'll behave as e-consumers once there.

Research has shown that the best way to segment women online is by the hat they are wearing at the time, or the mindset through which they are approaching the sale. For example, when a woman is in her "household manager role" as she heads online, she will be researching household purchases and items for the family, including everything from birthday presents to insurance policies. At that point, being on the Internet is just another routine task and a way for her to get things done. If, however, she is online as "doctor mom," concerned with her five-year-old son's mysterious rash, for example, she will be searching for the most credible site to help her soothe her child and ease her worried mindand she'll spend all day online, if necessary, to find her answers.

And, of course, there are the times when a woman will go online to escape stress or to self-indulge. Using the Web can become an alternate activity that helps women quickly switch gears from their day-to-day experience and take a break. So, these are the times when she is wearing her "just for me" hat and might be taking a selfdiscovery quiz, reading an article on a woman's site, or visiting her favorite news site.

The final role that many women regularly play on any given day is that of "Ms. Biz," when as workingwoman or business owner she is using the Web as a source for research or purchases.

[5] Simultaneous Media Usage Study , report (Worthington, OH: BIGresearch, October 2002, http://www.bigresearch.com. Also see the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (RAMA), Washington, D.C., http://www.rama-nrf.org.

[6] Fall Full Year National Consumer Study (New York: Simmons Market Research Bureau, 2002), http://www.smrb.com.

[7] Paco Underhill, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), page 126. Also see http://www.envirosell.com.