Gender Specific E-Commerce: Help or Hype?

In an effort to make e-commerce more personal, a growing number of Internet businesses are targeting such specific population segments as minorities, children and women. In fact, two full-service financial sites targeting female Internet users debuted last week, claiming to provide financial services and content to meet the unique needs of women. and the WFN Women’s Financial Network, Inc. both offer services for women to research, organize and manage all aspects of their finances, as well as content on a variety of topics said to be of special interest to women.

However, while both and WFN purport to deal with issues that have disproportionately large financial impacts on women — such as parenting and divorce — it is not clear that the financial services they provide differ in any marked way from those offered on existing financial services sites.

Women Underserved

Tiffany Bass Bukow, founder and CEO of, said her new site gives women a “two minute-a-day” solution to simplify their financial lives. “My vision to launch a company designed specifically to meet women’s financial needs is rooted in the early days of the Web when I recognized that women were largely underserved by the financial services industry,” Bukow said.

The new site debuted during the recent Women’s Technology Cluster (WTC), with featured guest First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in attendance. has already formed business relationships with companies such as, NextCard, Citibank and E-Loan to provide services to the site’s members. However, there is no mention of how — if at all — these companies will gear their services toward female customers. says it has formed relationships with authors who have written books about women and money to provide content on the site.

Gender-based Financial Needs

As for WFN, it is billing itself as “the first full service financial site created by women to meet the unique financial needs of women.”

CEO and founder Jennifer Openshaw said, “AT WFN, we’ve created a place to empower women in money and in life. For so long, women have been taught to take care of everyone else — husbands, children, even parents. Now it’s time for women to put themselves first.”

In answer to critics who openly question the need for gender-specific financial Web sites, WFN’s editor-in-chief Kathleen Morris points out that while some sites, such as, are “gender-neutral,” others, such as, are “male-oriented.”

Morris characterized’s approach as having a “we-tell-you-what-to-think” approach, while WFN will attempt to be more inquisitive and supportive of women’s distinct financial needs. WFN will offer free membership and access to investment, credit card, banking and other information, but it is not clear how this information will be adapted for women.

Power in Numbers

By the end of this month, WFN visitors should be able to pay their bills through CyberBills, a service that is also available on many sites that are not gender specific. Starting this summer, WFN will also offer investment services with its own brokerage firm, and allow women to apply online for home mortgages, home equity loans, auto financing, personal loans and credit cards — transactions that are arguably just as relevant to men as to women.

Additionally, members will be able to shop and compare quotes for home, renter’s, auto, health and life insurance from among 54 of the nation’s leading insurance companies. There is no mention of how these processes will be tailored in line with women’s interests.

The site will also feature the WFN Buyer’s Club, allowing members to pool their purchasing power in a scenario that lowers the price of an item as more members get together to purchase it.

Special Needs or Creative Marketing?

Both sites are essentially providing special interest content to make a special marketing appeal, but there is no indication that the actual services they will provide are any different from those that can be accessed elsewhere. Nielsen//NetRatings data shows that while men and women access the Internet from home in almost equal numbers now, more male than female users frequent financial sites.

According to analyst Betty Cho, the new sites may fill a niche that has been neglected. “It’s noteworthy that none of the top 10 financial sites accessed from home or work are attracting female visitors in equal numbers,” Cho said. “This points to an unmet opportunity in the market to provide women with the tools, services and content that will empower them to take control of their financial lives.” and WFN are banking on the expectation that women will be attracted to conducting online business with sites that characterize themselves as female-friendly.

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