THE BLOG
09/24/2013 05:39 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

How Women Are Influencing the Future of eCommerce

With the rapid growth of eCommerce, and the explosion in mobile commerce, it's fair to say that today's retailers are as strongly focused online as well as off. Martec's IT in Retail 2013 report, analysed 70 percent of the U.K. market (covering £203 billion in sales) and found that retailers are making eCommerce their investment priority, far outstripping store spend for only the second time.

That change in focus means that it's time to reassess traditional views about how to appeal to an eCommerce purchaser. The traditional picture has been of early adopters, predominantly men, buying digital media, computers and other consumer electronics. But expectations as to what an eCommerce purchaser should be, and should do are changing, as many sites are expanding their wares to areas of more traditional female responsibility, as women are the key purchasers for household goods sold online.

The increase in fashion brands selling online, once laughed at because 'who would want to buy clothes or shoes without trying them on?', has only been one element of the evolution in online retailing. Grocery shopping, clothes, toys and party supplies are just some of the opportunities that have seen the number of women outstrip the number of men buying online.

comScore's Women on the Web report says while men and women make up approximately half of internet users, women account for 58 percent of all online purchases, and decide 83-87 percent of consumer purchases. Women spend more money online than men in all but three categories: electronics/computing, event/movie tickets, and flower/greeting cards/gifts. But if women are deciding on the majority of purchases, then it's imperative that site owners respond to their interests and needs.

The rise can be partially attributed to the wider availability of products and shopping experiences that women want. Online fashion has seen the biggest growth in the past year and is now one of the largest product segments. Other areas that have seen tremendous growth are health & beauty, food, DIY, and household products. Women already drive the majority of purchases on many sites such as Zappos, Gilt Group, Etsy and Groupon. Additionally, eCommerce companies that focus on a female audience, such as e.l.f. Cosmetics, Boden, Stella & Dot and One Kings Lane are growing quickly.

It's not as simple as saying let's target housewives between 25 and 35, or defining by geography. Women today are workers, mothers, carers, home owners and business owners and they have a range of interests and concerns. The most obvious change is in how an entire generation of women are beginning to live a different way. While exciting fashion sites for the young may have the most visible advertising, shifting demographics are changing the way in which women live, work and shop. Older women, especially in the 55 to 75 year range, have seen changes in their roles from housewife and mother, to the buyer of security, convenience, and luxury items.

A key driver is convenience. Women in the United Kingdom, for example, are taking their eCommerce purchasing a step beyond online and now lead the market in mobile purchases. Research conducted at OgilvyAction into the mobile behaviour of 1,000 U.K. consumers found that 56 percent of women own a smartphone, as opposed to 51 percent of men. It also showed that one in six women had made a purchase on their mobile phone, compared to one in nine men.

What's important about this shift in purchasing influence is not just the difference between the types of products that men and women buy but understanding how shopping patterns vary between the genders. According to Marcus Law at SLI Systems, it's important to ensure that your site caters to the needs of your audience, especially in terms of the different ways in which the sexes use the internet.

As a rule, men tend to prefer shorter shopping experiences. They achieve that by searching for exactly what they are looking for and then buying the product. Research shows that men are more likely to intensely research the product page and read all the product details, while women will often quickly scan the product page, but continue on to browse other products. Women also tend to search by brand instead of searching by product.

Which means the $64,000 question is: Are you set up to appeal to the majority of online consumers? You need to ensure that your site is set up to fulfill the needs and interests of both male and female consumers, and that means making sure that your site can be navigated in a number of different ways.

An effective search box that gives extremely relevant results can lead customer's right to the product they are looking for. On the flip side, having a navigation that is full of useful refinements allows for a browsing experience that easily narrows down the best products, but still allows for a visual and highly-engaging shopping experience. By providing multiple avenues to access products you'll create a shopping experience that will appeal to both women and men alike.

In today's economic conditions you need to make sure that you're covering every angle that might interest your consumer.