Ok – I know I’ve been somewhat of a cranky-pants lately – so today I’m going to be effusive and gushing and showering in praise.
But I do have some good things to say about an interesting article on how men and women shop online…what’s the same and what’s different.
Resource Interactive conducted a study with comScore Networks about how men and women shop differently online. They wanted to come up with the answer to the question: Given the different online shopping styles of men and women, how can online merchants set up their sites to maximize sales from both genders?
Here are some of the key findings of the research:
Stick to Their Mission vs. Expand Their Mission
Paco Underhill, the famed "shopping scientist" who advises the retail industry on shoppers behaviors stated in 2000 that women seek online objectives single-mindedly, while men stay oneline and surf. But Resource Interactive’s research contradicted this theory. To sum up one of the research’s findings, "Men stick to their mission, women expand their mission," says Edd Johns, Resource Interactive’s executive director of strategy.
"If men are out to research the best digital camera or the best shirt, they’re not doing much else," he says.
"Women, however, might come in and say, ‘I’m interested in a digital camera,’ and the next thing you know, they’re looking at clothes for their kids, they’re thinking about what they’re doing that weekend, and if they need to pick something up for their husbands."
But Johns stresses a critical point: Although women expand their mission, they don’t abandon it. "Their list of ‘things to do’ grows. So what you need to know as a retailer is that they’re going to be diverting from their primary mission, but they’re adding to it, not abandoning it."
There is a really fine distinction here.
I’ve often bucked the trend and said women are task oriented online and do not want to browse and explore every nook and cranny of your website. I believe that’s still true. But I think what you’re seeing is that women are multi-tasking more than men. They still have very specific targeted tasks, but they may have several of them.
Another key finding:
The Product Focus vs. the Lifestyle Focus
To reach both men and women, it’s "really critical" for an online store to balance a product focus with a lifestyle focus, Johns says. In fact, it’s more critical "than anything we observed."
A lifestyle focus generally uses soft visual cues, and it always puts products in context — using a photo that groups several products in a life-like setting — instead of a single product. A lifestyle focus often uses people in the photo. Traditionally, this approach is thought to be more attractive to women, whereas "men tend to go ‘I don’t know what’s going on in this picture,’" Johns says.
"You flip that around, and you show a refrigerator on a white background, or you show a single shirt, and women instantly go, ‘What’s that for? What’s the context?’"
However, the research revealed a surprising contradiction to these stereotypes.
Prior to starting its research, Resource Interactive hypothesized that there would be polarization between the genders: that women would be exclusively attracted by a lifestyle focus, where men would gravitate only toward a "nuts and bolts" product focus.
In reality, the research shows the genders have "significant overlap," Johns says. "What we found is that women are enticed by lifestyle, then product; men are enticed by product, then lifestyle."
"So there is a different entering point, but you can’t deviate from [offering] both." It’s necessary to balance these approaches. "You can go too far, and miss the product for men, and for women, if you go too far with lifestyle, they might leave because you’re not getting them to the product fast enough."
Some of this, I believe, is due to personality type. More humanistic personas will naturally gravitate to the lifestyle pictures. They base buying decisions based on feelings and relationships. More methodical personas are more single minded and product focused. They will be more interested in “nuts and bolts” product features.
They base buying decisions based more on logical proven facts. Both men and women have these personality types. But since women are perhaps more relationship focused, I can see how they might come in on those types of images.
Another interesting point that came out in the discussion of the article was about web analytics. I’ve been e-chatting with Debora Geary at Fireweed Analytics and she’s seen some evidence that women have less linear pathways than men.
Certainly in our experience at Future Now, we’ve found this to be true for many of our personas. It’s one of the big mistakes many websites make – they only plan linear paths. We actually created our own software in order to create non-linear pathways. The problem is – while we can make some very good hypotheses about what questions our personas are asking and what information they’re looking for, we don’t necessarily know in what order they’ll ask those questions. We plan for that in our scenario mapping and have had huge success with it.
So – while I’ve had some misgivings about some other research on how men and women shop online – this article has some really helpful information in it – so give it a read.