Practical Ecommerce

Behavioral Differences Between Men and Women Influence Shopping

Retail is the dominion of women; they shop to purchase both essential and discretionary goods, to relax, and to socialize. So it’s not surprising that women account for over 80 percent of consumer spending, or about $5 trillion dollars annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Men, in contrast, are reluctant store shoppers and much more focused, shopping only if they intend to buy a specific item and wanting to get in and out quickly. A number of research studies show that much of this admittedly stereotypical behavior carries over to online shopping.

The early days of online shopping were actually quite male-oriented as the selection of products was limited to computers, software, music, and consumer electronics. As tools for product and price comparison (the ability to do this without having to visit physical stores is particularly attractive to men) became available, males became even more enthusiastic about ecommerce.

Then as the variety of online goods expanded to food, apparel, home goods, and toys, females took to online shopping. However, web shopping lacked the social aspects of retail shopping and apparel merchants (especially luxury brands) were slow to move online. However, the arrival of social media tools, combined with better visuals and video, made the online shopping environment more enticing. Females can now share more of the online shopping experience and decision-making with friends and family.

Different Approaches to Online Shopping

Men tend to stick to their mission when shopping online, while women expand the undertaking by wandering among products and categories, according to a survey by Empathica, a customer experience consultancy.

Other Empathica findings include:

  • Males and females differ in how they utilize a product page. Males intensely research the page, viewing all the product details and pictures, while women quickly scan the product page and go to the next product they want.
  • Males tend to search by product while females search by brand.
  • Fifty-four percent of men browse the Web every few days for shopping research purposes compared to 47 percent of women.

Social Media Use

While both males and females use social networking sites, they use them for different purposes. Males predominantly look for information while females seek out sales and coupons. Empathica’s survey found that when browsing using social media, just finding information is a primary goal for 36 percent of men, but only 28 percent of women. Both genders have increased their use of social media for comparison-shopping purposes —37 percent of males and 36 percent of females. According to performance marketing firm Performics, 62 percent of males and 50 percent of females compare products using social media channels.

When looking for bargains, the gender split between males and females is marked – 47 percent of females are searching for coupons and promotion as their primary use of social media, compared with 33 percent of men. One third of female respondents have increased the amount of time they dedicate to searching for coupons through social media, compared with about 20 percent of men. However, it appears that males are more inclined to consult deal websites — 56 percent versus 41 percent for females according to the Performics Social Shopping Study.

Females are more likely to recommend a brand, product or service to their friends and family through a social network, with 35 percent doing so, compared with 28 percent of males.

Online activity while shopping in-store is also gaining popularity. Sixty-two percent of respondents on the Performics’ Social Shopping Study, said they conduct competitive price searches while in a retail location and thirty percent use a barcode scanner on their mobile phone to shop for prices.

Younger Males’ Habits Are Similar to Females

The Internet may be altering some hard-wired male behavior, particularly among men less than 25 years of age. Shoppercentric, a UK-based shopping research firm, found that 18-24 year old males defy most male shopping patterns by browsing — both in retail stores and online — shopping with friends, and rivaling women in the number of impulse purchases.

Opportunities for Ecommerce Merchants

By catering to the distinctive patterns of males and females, ecommerce merchants can increase conversion rates.

  • If you are serving a mostly male audience, present detailed product descriptions, feature comparisons to other similar products, and provide customer reviews.

  • If you are targeting females, offer an online chat feature, discussion forums, high-quality visuals, customer reviews, and, if you are selling apparel, provide video clips and slide shows. Also include a list of recently viewed products and make it easy to return to those products. Since females do more browsing, ensure that your website allows for easy switching between related categories. The objective is to make the shopping experience as social as possible.

  • Promotions and sales attract women so ensure that you are keeping up with your competitors with your marketing offers.

  • If your products appeal to younger shoppers of both genders, make sure that you provide social media tools so they can share their experiences with friends. While older males don’t like to dither, younger ones enjoy browsing and interacting with others while shopping.

Marcia Kaplan
Marcia Kaplan
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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Petula December 12, 2011 Reply

    I’m curious about the sample size and demographic that generated these conclusions. Most of the women I know are working mothers who don’t have a lot of extra time to dither over purchase decisions. Also the early days of online shopping were dominated by another major category, books. Books are easy to ship, and from a shrink and fraud perspective it was much easier for retailers selling books, magazines and other small-ticket soft goods to get online, arguably products that would interest both genders.

  2. Marcia Kaplan December 13, 2011 Reply

    Petula:

    While I don’t have the specific methodology, both Performics and Empathica perform year-round research for their clients — advertisers in the case of Performics and multi-channel retailers for Empathica. As for working mothers, the number of product review blogs targeted at them shows that they do use some forms of social media for decision-making. I agree that books were one of the major categories in the early days of online commerce and that the category appealed to both genders, but the Internet was seen as a technology tool that would be used mostly by men.

  3. Elizabeth Ball December 17, 2011 Reply

    One aspect that wasn’t covered was that women do the majority of gift shopping – offline and online – and are tasked with this not only for their family and friends but often for their colleagues and employees, too, while men tend to "outsource" this task to their female partner, or employee.

    Neither men nor women expect men to be good gift shoppers but both sexes expect women to shop "well". However, men are more afraid than women of buying a gift that their partner will not like so they need a lot of clues that the item they are buying online will be the right one, backed up by plenty of images, description, customer reviews and a 100% money-back guarantee.

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