Online shopping might not make the most intriguing premise for a romantic comedy, but if Mel Gibson's character in "What Women Want" could read women's minds today, he'd find online shopping near the top of their list.
Ladies of the world, raise your mice! The Internet is your domain.
A recent report by online market research group comScore Inc. shows women of all ages are shaping the online world. Despite making up less than half the web population globally, the fairer race spends roughly 25 hours a month surfing the net: That's a surprising two hours more than men.
This difference doesn't seem earth shattering, but where the data really shows the influence of women -- both their spending habits and social appetites -- is in how that time is spent.
Call it nature, call it nurture, call it the urge to splurge; but shopping has translated easily for women into the digital age. Just behind social media and messaging, retail garners the fourth largest percentage of women's digital lives. Of those 25 hours a month spent online, an average of 70 minutes is dedicated solely to shopping therapy.
The report proves online retail is a bona fide cultural norm in North America these days, with 85 percent of women using the Internet to research, compare and buy everything from handbags to video games. Not only do ladies spend a whopping 20-percent more time than dudes browsing online retail sites, in the U.S. they account for 58 percent of dollars spent.
The hottest online markets are also those considered traditionally female. Comparison shopping and apparel sites are the two most popular places, each culling visits from 25 percent of all women online. In fact, with the exception of man-cave items like computers, electronics and outdoor equipment, women outspend men in every major retail category: Yes, even the aforementioned video games and consoles, though the researchers mention these are likely purchased for children -- or child-like husbands.
What, then, does this all mean for online shopping trends?
As in the physical world, saving money is a prime concern. Remember the days when mom would keep on old, floral printed zip-up bag of every coupon from the Sunday newspaper? Today's women still use traditional coupons, but even the time-honored trademark of sensible buying is skewing digital. Ladies are again ahead of the curve with online coupons, as 68 percent use them regularly.
Surprisingly, men aren't far behind. A considerable 60 percent use online coupons to save mullah. Being the tech-geeks they are, guys are especially drawn to programs like the Coupon Sherpa mobile app, complete with scannable bar codes and GPS tracking for nearby deals.
While at home, coupon sites are the new go-to places to visit while comparison shopping or to snag department store deals. Just under half of all women keep such coupons in their arsenal of top three money saving tactics, while nearly 35 percent of men do.
Spurred by web thriftiness and viral word-of-mouth, group-buying sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are popping up on every corner of the net, piquing the interest of women across the country. More traffic on both sites comes from deal-digging lasses than their male counterparts.
It's this spending power that has led Groupon, arguably the largest of the group-buying sites, to rake in nearly $1.35 billion since it went live a year and a half ago. Women have played a huge role in creating what is predicted to be the fastest growing company in history.
The near-overnight popularity of group-buying sites proves marketers and entrepreneurs are paying attention to what women want by catering to their tastes, habits and pocketbooks, all practically in real-time. Women are drawn to instant communication and strive for direct, personal contact online, spending nearly five hours per month on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
A handful of merchants have grabbed hold of this need for socialization by tackling one common shortcoming of online buying: In general, it's done alone. Women typically don't visit the mall without a handful of close friends to compare and critique every cut of cloth. A propensity for Internet Messaging and Tweeting shows the gals don't want to be alone online, either. What sensible shopper would, given most are three times as likely to trust a friend over an expert?
Enter "collaborative shopping," an online movement adopted last year by several merchants that brings your Internet shopping experience one step closer to a digital fitting room, complete with all the oohs, aahs, and blahs.
The concept for one application, ShopTogether, is simple: Visit a participating store's site, click on the bottom ShopTogether bar, and invite friends from your e-mail or various social media contacts. From there, you can shop together and "try on" various items by sharing them with your fellow fashionistas. Also included is a chat bar for real-time banter and closet feature to save your favorite items for later. Famous for marching to their own beat, Zappos has an independent version of this chat/closet feature.
As it stands, the ShopTogether app is only used by apparel stores. Some, however, have gone gung-ho with incentives. Exclusive coupons are available regularly for friends who shop and buy together. The most recent was for a sweet 25 percent off any order, no minimum purchase required. It pays to bring your buds.
In a slightly different vein, others are tapping into women's hardwired need for efficiency, convenience and affordability by collapsing several carts from multiple stores into one hassle-free bundle. The most well-know is the Gap family of stores -- Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Piperlime and Athleta -- that helped pioneer the process.
Although only in it's infancy, this era of collaboration allows for all sorts of new-fangled ways to save. Example: Every order, no matter what the size, ships for a $7 dollar flat rate in one or several boxes. Occasionally, adding even one item from a certain store will garner free shipping on an entire order.
It's too early to tell if any of these tactics will lead online shopping to overtake in-person retail, but the trend has grown steadily on it's own for the past 10 years. Anything that further connects people in cyberspace can only be a good thing.
To the already Internet savvy, pat yourselves on the back for getting the ball rolling. To all other ladies, log on, chat it up and shop till you drop a connection. It's your world wide web.
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