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Why Net marketers love mom

As mothers log on to shop and gather information, companies are taking notice, funneling marketing dollars to programs that can guarantee visibility among this group of women.

Julia Hellerman is too busy tending to her software start-up and 17-month-old son to go to the mall.

But the 30-year-old Boulder, Colo., resident managed to purchase airplane tickets, a baby thermometer and payroll software during a recent shopping blitz. She also researched which local car dealership could provide the best deal on the family's Volkswagen Passat Wagon and which type of cloth diapers got the highest rankings from other moms.

She couldn't have done any of it without the Internet--the medium of choice for most purchases and all consumer research in the Hellerman household.

"I can't imagine how many hours I've saved online," Hellerman said between office appointments. "I would never have time to go to 15 different stores in the real world, but I can easily go to 15 different Web sites. I don't have to get my baby ready and go out of the house. I can shop for 10 minutes while the baby is napping, or I can do it at night. I try to do as much as I can on the Web."

Hellerman isn't the only mother spending an increasing percentage of her money online. Sons and daughters throughout the United States will pay respect to mom Sunday, sending flowers and chocolates to commemorate Mother's Day. In fact, a report from comparison-shopping site BizRate.com said 71 percent of online shoppers plan to buy a Mother's Day present, spending an estimated $100 on their gifts.

But e-tailers have an entirely different reason to be grateful to moms: The demographic group is emerging as one of the fastest-growing segments of Internet users--and possibly the most extravagant when it comes to how much money they spend while online.

"Many moms consider the Internet one of the great boons brought to modern life," said Sharman Stein, articles editor of the 750,000-circulation Working Mother magazine, herself an avid Internet user and mother of 11- and 8-year-old boys.

"It's about time, efficiency and logistics," Stein said. "Let's take a woman who's working, especially full time, with kids. Her day is stretched at both ends, and her weekend is full of chores and tasks. When she's got to buy new jeans or stuff for the house, the easiest thing to do is go online."

Swift surfers, big spenders
It's tough to find definitive evidence on the amount of money American mothers spend online. But anecdotal evidence and studies of smaller groups show surprisingly strong support for e-commerce among moms, especially those who have full-time jobs and those who recently gave birth.

For example, over half of the people who subscribe to Working Mother magazine have spent at least $300 online in the past 12 months, and the average Working Mother subscriber spent $547 online in 2000. By contrast, the average teenager spent only $31 online in 2001, according to consulting firm Teenage Research Unlimited. (Although consumer product companies are desperate to gain traction with status-conscious teens, young consumers are hamstrung by their lack of credit cards--the de facto method of payment for online purchases.)

"If you've never had a baby before, you have no idea where to get a toddler bed. So you just go to Google and type in 'toddler bed.'"
--DeeDee Schroeder, mother and Web shopper
In addition, 95 percent of Working Mother subscribers have e-mail access. In a recent poll, three out of five subscribers said they purchased books and music online, while 47 percent said they purchased toys and games.

Those numbers don't surprise DeeDee Schroeder, a 35-year-old lawyer in San Francisco and the mother of 2-and-a-half-year-old Maureen. Most of Schroeder's pregnant friends register for baby showers at Target.com and Amazon.com-sponsored BabiesRUs.com, and Schroeder routinely turns to BabyCenter to find second opinions whenever she gets advice from her doctor.

"When I couldn't figure out how to get her to sleep through the night, my first reaction was to check the Web," said Schroeder, who is six months pregnant and receives weekly e-mails with diagrams of fetus development from BabyCenter.com. She recently purchased Maureen's bed from JCPenney.com and does research online for all major purchases.

"If you've never had a baby before, you have no idea where to get a toddler bed," Schroeder said. "So you just go to Google and type in 'toddler bed.' My husband and I spent a half-hour e-mailing pictures of toddler beds to each other and then bought the one we liked best."

Moms' fondness for spending money online is surprising, given that they spend relatively scant time on the home PC.

According to Nielsen/Net Ratings, women browse the Web on average two and a half hours less than men per month. The average man with home and work Internet access was on the Web for 10 hours and 23 minutes in May 2001, compared with 8 hours and 56 seconds for women.

Mothers also differ from other groups in the way they use the Internet. Many praise the medium because it allows them to do research or write e-mail in 5- to 10-minute chunks at home or work, giving them flexibility to order books or fire off an e-mail to a boss while a baby is sleeping, the phone is quiet or the pasta is cooking.

"I can use it anytime, on my own schedule," said Susanna Marshland, a 36-year-old mother of two in Kensington, Calif., and program director of a nonprofit organization in San Francisco. Marshland sends e-mail about 6-year-old Alexander and 4-year-old Kai to a family distribution group, and she plans outings based on science fairs, play groups and other events at the Neighborhood Parents Network.

"I can work my Internet use around my and my children's schedules," Marshland said. "Also, if your 2-year-old has a meltdown while you are purchasing a book online, it's decidedly less embarrassing than when the same thing happens in a bookstore."

Snagging discounts when they can
Because their time online is compressed, mothers may be more influenced by strategically timed and placed discounts, advertising, and other online marketing promotions.

According to a survey of 3,150 women released last month from Jupiter Media Metrix, 41 percent of mothers say they buy things online on sale that they wouldn't have bought otherwise. About one-quarter of the moms surveyed also used coupons from Web sites or e-mail for purchases in local stores, mainly food from nearby grocery stores.

"Women with kids look for online bargains," Jupiter analyst Jon Gibs said in the research report. "Therefore, companies looking to reach women online with kids should focus on price promotions and marketing programs such as online coupons."

Advertisers and retailers are taking notice, funneling marketing dollars to programs that can guarantee visibility among mothers.

Executives at Redwood City, Calif.-based online advertising firm Gator, which sends targeted ads to more than 15 million users based on Web browsing habits and basic demographic information, say women have higher "click through" rates than men in many categories. About 85 percent of the people who click on pop-up ads for Gator's cosmetics clients are women, and about 75 percent of clickers on apparel ads are women.

Women may even be more likely than men to click on ads for gender-neutral products, or products such as real estate, mortgage brokers and financial institutions, as well as products traditionally skewed to male consumers, such as consumer electronics and automobiles.

Women represented nearly 48 percent of the people who clicked on a recent Gator pop-up ad for a sport-utility vehicle--even though women make up far less than half of Gator's total population of people who received the targeted pop-up. Women represent roughly 60 percent of the clickers for Gator pop-up ads in categories as diverse as pet care, pharmaceuticals and travel.

"If you're interested in a family minivan or SUV and someone brings you information on it, right in front of you on your computer screen, you're going to click on it," said Scott Eagle, Gator's chief marketing officer, "especially if you're trying to gather research quickly."

Women were also the determining factor in one of Gator's most effective promotions. Gator sent pop-up ads for an international, high-end cosmetics company to people who met three standards: They were mothers, they considered themselves "beauty conscious," and they were affluent. Click-through rates averaged 24 percent, compared with an industry average of roughly 0.2 percent for non-targeted pop-up ads at large.

"This is an audience that is very active in terms of transactions and clicking and getting involved," Eagle said of moms. "More cosmetics companies are coming to realize this, as well as companies that have products related to baby wellness, diapers and other baby products. There is a hugely receptive audience out there."

E-commerce is only one way moms use the Internet. Many say they turn to chat groups and e-mail as a social antidote to baby talk and "Sesame Street" videos. The Internet serves as a much-needed community of adults, particularly for stay-at-home moms and those on maternity leave.

"I get bored being home all the time, so I go to the Web because it's more interactive than television," said Sarah Sturgis, a Livonia, Mich., resident and 30-year-old stay-at-home mother of 2-and-a-half-year-old Brendan and 9-month-old Ryan. Sturgis spends roughly five hours per week online, usually sending e-mails and researching landscaping projects and home repair.

"If I didn't have e-mail or the Web, I would feel much more confined," Sturgis said. "I would probably subscribe to more magazines and buy more books."