More On How Men and Women Use the Internet Study

“Torture the numbers until they talk!” 

That’s a favorite saying of my colleagues Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg.   They’re referring to the fact that you can take research data and analyze and twist it every which way in order to get it to say what you want it to say.

I’ve found it really interesting to read the different takes on the Pew Internet Study about the differences between how men and women act online.

I found a particularly interesting article – How Gender Affects Search, Part 2 by Gord Hotchkiss.   Let me start by saying it’s actually a really good article.  But I do have a few bones to pick.  He refers to the Pew Internet study and research done by his own group, Enquiro.  Gord points out that the Pew Internet study found that

“While men look at the Internet as a resource and a tool to accomplish a task, women use it as a communication channel.  Men appreciate the Internet’s ability to help them get the job at hand done.”   

Several articles claimed the same thing – but I really have to ask – was that really what you got from the research data? 

Yes – women use email more often – and they like the sense of community – but does that mean you can say women prefer to use the Internet as a communication channel above all other purposes?   It’s not so much that I disagree with the statement –but this vast over generalization can lead marketers to stereotype women and believe they are not task oriented online.

Gord goes on to say

The multitasking female.  Women are social creatures.  They also multitask better, and are more comfortable browsing.   Women will be more patient with non-obvious navigation options.  They’re more apt to explore the nooks and crannies of the site to see what they can find.  And they look at the Internet as a way to reach out to a larger global community, and to connect with geographically distant friends and family."

While I agree with the last part – I’m not sure I buy the “more patient with non-obvious navigation options” and “more comfortable browsing”.   In my experience, I’ve found the opposite.   I’ve found that women are just as task oriented, if not more task oriented than men.  Women’s number one complaint is that they don’t have enough time.  They love the Internet because it saves them time. 

Remember, women were slower to take up the Internet largely due to usability issues.   They’re jumping aboard in record numbers largely due to the fact that the Internet has become much more user friendly.    Men are famous for not asking directions – they’ll just feel their way around.    Women want to know where they’re going. They want a clear map to help them get from their starting point to their destination.   I’d argue that the same is true with the Internet.    If a woman has to guess about “non-obvious navigation” – your site is going to lose trust and credibility.   

As for “more comfortable browsing” – I’m not so sure about that, either.   Don’t confuse online shopping with offline shopping.   Offline – yes – especially when buying clothes, she may browse for hours through stores, trying things on, comparing colors and fabrics, perusing every shelf.   But online – she is trying to save time – she has a purpose.   If she is early in the buying process – yes – she may search through different sites educating herself and getting ideas.  But she still has a specific purpose or task. She’s not just browsing for the heck of it.  She wants to buy a new pair of black designer heels.  She wants to get a new cell phone with better coverage.    She wants to know what treatments are available for her husband’s newly diagnosed health problem.    Is she really going to explore every nook and cranny of the website?   ONLY if it provides information that is relevant to what she is searching for.  Otherwise she does not have time.

There is one factor that might make her more “determined” (though don’t confuse determined with patient) when dealing with non obvious navigation – and that’s when she is highly motivated.   Women are often looking for something specific and won’t settle for “close enough”.    If she wants a soft-sided blue quilted zip jewelry case to replace her mother’s old one – she’s going to work really hard to find that exact case.   So she may “put up with” less than intuitive navigation – but she won’t like it.  You may have exactly what she wants, and she may buy it – but she’ll likely not visit you again since her experience with your site was frustrating.

In order to check my theory that women are not task oriented on the Internet – I went straight to the horse’s mouth – Michele Miller.    Michele conducts “conversation groups” (way more effective than focus groups) with women all over the country and regularly asks them about their Internet usage.  Here’s what Michele has to say:

The more I do these “conversation group” sessions with women of all ages, the more the overwhelming answer (when I delve into how they use the Internet) is for a) research and b) to accomplish a task.  They are using it to help them save time and money

One final statistic from the Pew Internet study which I previously pointed out is very important –

82% of men and 75% of women research products and services.  Women are catching up to men quickly with an increase in this category of 3% for men vs. 12% for women.

So just be careful.  Don’t let a headline like “men are task oriented, women are communicators” push you into false conclusions.

One final note  Gord has some really interesting thoughts on how men and women search and more – despite not agreeing with him on some items – the article provides some valuable insight.  So do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.


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16 Responses to More On How Men and Women Use the Internet Study

  1. ak says:

    The link you posted for Gord’s article is subscriber only, any way to fix that?

  2. amcdan says:

    While I have not read the Hotchkiss article nor seen other references to women using the Internet primarily as a communications channel in response to the Pew Study, I do agree with your arguments. My perspective is influenced by my job with a trade association, of which the majority is women, and anecdotal perceptions from discussions with my wife. I too have found the opposite about women being more patient or more comfortable browsing. They seem to be much more quickly irritated by the waste of time than men (who think they’ll get it figured out in another minute or two). Fast, easy, useful – those seem to be three of the most critical factors.

  3. James says:

    How much of these differences can be attributed to culture versus gender?

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  16. I also feel that bloggers do influence purchase.Well i did not know and still don’t believe that there a gender thing working here.Thanks for the post.Gave me deeper knowledge on the subject.

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