Does E-Commerce Know What Women Want?

When asked recently if he knows what women want, matinee idol Mel Gibson, star of the new motion picture “What Women Want,” said simply, “I don’t have a clue.”

If only the e-commerce powers that be were so self aware.Somehow, over the past couple of years, there evolved an assumption that women wanted exclusivity at Web sites — portals designed only for females and content focused on “traditional” women’s issues — forgetting that the Internet is supposed to be a gateway to a world where old stereotypes fall by the wayside.

Newsflash: “Girl talk” now includes global investing, forecasting corporate earnings, auto repair, retirement planning and soccer. That isn’t your grandmother’s girl talk, but this isn’t 1950 either. All those who still believe that women are only interested in gardening and creating the perfect needlepoint toaster cover need a wakeup call.

What Women Don’t Want

Women simply don’t seem to be drawn in large numbers to female-only sites. Oxygen Media, even with media powerhouse Oprah Winfrey at the helm, joined the dot-com layoff parade recently, eliminating 65 jobs. Online portal recently pink-slipped 85 employees.

Although both portals greet all comers with soft-colored homepages and promises of riveting recipes, tips on pregnancy, and hallowed honeymoon stories, times are tough for them. The Oprahs and Rosies of the world would do well to remind themselves that women also enjoy the company and perspective of men.

As Toddi Gutner wrote in Business Week about women’s finance and investing portals: “I often find the tone condescending and information elementary.”

Bending Gender Numbers

Here we are, supposedly in a new economy; yet we continue to perpetuate the same stereotypical buying myths that dogged us for much of the last century. Supposedly, men make household decisions on major purchases. Women dominate decision-making only on purchases of household items. Women exercise their buying power only on traditionally-female items, such as makeup and hair care products.

Evidently e-tailers are forgetting the prevalence of single parent households in America, the number of women in power positions and the majority of women who are heads of households.

Oh, and about that idea that men make all the major purchases? Consider: online auto company reports that 40 percent of its patrons are women, a figure that has doubled in just six months. Greenfield Online says that women have spent more money online than men for the past two quarters. Media Metrix tells us that half of Internet users (31 million) are female.

Reports like these should tell e-tailers that if they continue to target their women buyers in the same manner retailers have for decades, chances are thatwomen will simply click away.

Inclusiveness Above All

Women are clearly saying they want real world information, quality merchandise and sites that respect their place in the culture. They are clearly insistingthat there is a need for both content and merchandise that crosses gender lines and fully includes women as participants, rather than simply playing to them as observers.

None of this is to say that glamour, horoscopes, new ways to use cream cheese and makeup blending aren’t eyecatchers on Web sites. There are masses of women out there who turn to the Internet for light entertainment and shopping.

But in this moment of declining dot-com revenues, it would be wise for the online corporate boys’ club to realize the immense spending power of women. And those who consider themselves forward thinkers by perpetuating the ghettoization of women and relegating them to powder blue and soft amber Web pages are going to be wondering why their pockets feel so light around this time next year.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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