In a survey of 2,198 Internet users, Net study group PeopleSupport found that 63 percent of those who shop online are women, and the percentage of women surfing the Web has grown from 15 percent in 1995 to 50 percent this year, the study found. In contrast, a study by CommerceNet Nielsen Media Research last April found women in the United States and Canada comprised 38 percent of online buyers.
"The finding that women have so quickly become the Web's top shoppers should come as no surprise," said Lance Rosenzweig, chief executive of Los Angeles-based PeopleSupport. "Women have traditionally been responsible for 80 percent of household purchases. As more purchases take place online, women will continue to take charge in that world as well."
One of the natural results of more women shopping via the Web has been the emergence of e-commerce sites that cater to women. The last year has seen the emergence of home-grooming guru Martha Stewart's Living Omnimedia, Women.com and Oprah Winfrey-backed Oxygen.com.
Last month, CondeNet, the Internet unit of publishing powerhouse Conde Nast, unveiled fashion site Style.com, which will soon include e-commerce offerings.
The attempts to capitalize on the explosion of the numbers of female Net shoppers has been met with mixed results, however. For instance, Women.com closed its online clothing store in February just three months after its launch.
One of the complaints that women have with e-commerce sites, PeopleSupport found in its study, is the lack of customer support. More than half wanted the option of communicating with customer support personnel through email or by instant online chat services.
The reason for this, PeopleSupport found, was that most women access the Net over the same phone line they use to make calls. To contact a company representative by phone requires them to log off which most said they found inconvenient.
The types of women using the Internet mirrored that of men in terms of age, income, ethnic background and family structure. Most of those that shop online more than once a week are between the ages of 45 and 54, earn $75,000 or more, are white and have children.