Behind the Numbers: Men Versus Women Online

The old stereotype that men are hunters and women are gatherers is actually an apt profile of online shopping behavior today. Online, men like to "dig," choosing a site and drilling down within it to hunt for information. Women, on the other hand, like to "scan" -- they are multitaskers who move through massive amounts of data quickly.

These and other differences were uncovered in a recent report, "Gender on the Net: Why It Matters, Where It's Missing, How It Should Work," produced by interactive agency Resource Interactive and comScore Networks. The study tracked 326,000 online purchases over the course of a year, generated 250 hours of one-on-one engagement with 50 men and women, and incorporated custom data from 150,000 online households and a survey of 1,000 online participants.

The study found that men prefer sites chock full of product pictures and specs, while women prefer to see the product in a lifestyle context. "Women prefer flatness," says Nita Rollins, executive director of marketing at Resource Interactive. "They don't want to be tripped up by undue amounts of product detail, whereas men prefer the detail."

The women in the study were twice as likely as men to use such visualization tools as enlarging a color swatch or rotating an item to see it from different angles. Men were 20 percent more likely to use comparison tools and went to great lengths to find the price range, discounts, and features of their product.

Men also took copious notes on various products to stay knowledgeable and informed, while women were three times more likely to take tangents or diversions off to another area. "To the most casual male observers, women seem to be skipping around," Rollins says. "But there is actually a great sense of purpose to their diversion." In fact, one of the women interviewed searched a Web site looking for a bathing suit and ended up buying a kayak. "She never did buy the bathing suit," Rollins says, "but to her, that was perfectly all right. There are these themes that women have," she adds. "In this case, the tie-in theme was vacations, so the switch made perfect sense to her."

Men's novelty-seeking nature is also satisfied online. "If the consumer electronics or automotive manufacturers want to be more sensitive to the way men shop, they will make the newest features and gadgets readily visible," she says, noting that "men are constantly on the hunt for the best deal." That doesn't mean they're always looking for the best price, she says -- just the best value. "If they're educated about all their price options, they may not necessarily go for the cheapest deal. They just don't want to feel like they're getting duped."

Women in the study were 1.5 times more likely to add items to the shopping cart for later viewing. They also responded well to such triggers as "unique gifts" and are more open to impulse buying. Meanwhile, the men were twice as likely as the women to pick up their online purchase in the store. They also ranked availability to ship immediately and a broad selection high on their list of relevant features and benefits.

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