Closing up the Net shopping gender gap

A new study suggests that the gender gap in e-commerce is closing rapidly, as increasing numbers of women head online to shop for and buy products.

3 min read
A new study suggests that the gender gap in e-commerce is closing rapidly, as increasing numbers of women head online to shop for and buy products.

According to a CommerceNet Nielsen Media Research study of Internet users in the United States and Canada to be released later today, women comprised 38 percent of online buyers in April. That's up from nine months earlier, when the groups' previous study found that only 29 percent of those who bought products online were women.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 0.6 percent, also found that Net usage had jumped 16 percent since last summer and the number of online users increased to 92 million. Women comprised 46 percent of Net users, up about 3 percentage points from the previous survey.

The study defined Net users as anyone who had accessed the Internet in the month preceding the study and who still had access to it at the time of the interview. The study did not specify where users gained access, whether at work, at home, or elsewhere.

Noting that the number of Net users now represents about 40 percent of the population of the United States and Canada, CommerceNet executive vice president Mark Resch predicted that Net users would comprise a majority of the population within the next 12 months.

"Five years ago, the Net was going to be this CB radio phenomenon," Resch said. "What we're seeing is that it's staying and it's sustaining."

The study found that the number of online shoppers was up 15 percent to 55 million people. Online shoppers, according to the survey, were surfers who had used the Internet to compare prices or get product information, regardless of whether they made a purchase. The percentage of female shoppers rose to 41 percent from 36 percent in the previous study.

According to the survey, the top five products people shopped for online were: cars and car parts (18.2 million shoppers), books (12.6 million shoppers), computers (12.4 million shoppers), clothing (11.6 million shoppers), and CDs and videos (11.4 million shoppers).

The study found an even greater increase in the number of people buying online. That number jumped 40 percent to 28 million. In four areas--CDs and videos, clothing, books, and travel--the number of women purchasing those particular products increased more than 100 percent over the previous survey.

Resch said that as growing number of users go online, the gender makeup of Net users will inevitably start to fall in line with that of the offline population. He added that the longer women are on the Net, the more likely they are to become shoppers and buyers.

Resch said that e-commerce will continue to grow and predicted a self-sustaining cycle. More online shoppers will lead to more online business, which will attract more shoppers.

"Electronic commerce has been going in waves and we're at the trough of a really big one coming," he said. "A lot is going to happen this holiday season."

The study involved telephone interviews with more than 7,200 people in April, aged 16 or older. The new study's results were similar to a recent survey by Intelliquest. However, Intelliquest's survey interviewed a much smaller sample of people-- 1,100--and only looked at Net usage in the United States.