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Women shoppers crowd Internet stores

Women flocked to online stores in droves this holiday season, signaling a major change in a male-dominated medium.

Women flocked to online stores in droves this holiday season, signaling a major change in the typically male-dominated medium.

More female shoppers online may possibly lure traditional retailers to the Net, since women historically spend big dollars in the "physical" retail world. As Internet retailing becomes increasingly mainstream, offline merchants may feel more comfortable following their customers online.

Marketing Corporation of America, a unit of ad conglomerate Interpublic Group said this week that female shoppers made the bulk of consumer retail purchases during the holiday season.

In the seven-day period from December 4-10, 55 percent of online shoppers were women, according to traffic measurement firm Media Metrix.

"We saw a huge demographic shift that was especially heavy at clothing and department stores," said Robert Ivins, Media Metrix senior vice president, noting that the following week saw an upsurge in male shoppers--possibly people who bought their holiday gifts at the last minute.

"We know that in every survey we've run, the online and shopping population are beginning to resemble the population at large," said e-commerce analyst Ken Cassar of Jupiter Communications, noting that more than half of America Online users are women.

That could have big implications for retailing on the Net, which has been traditionally dominated by male users. The shifting demographics are beckoning companies like Estee Lauder, that market products primarily to women.

"All of our sites have dominant female traffic," said Angela Kapp, Estee Lauder vice president of special markets and new media, whose Clinique site began selling online in mid-November. Lauder's Bobbi Brown Essentials also sells from its Web storefront.

Anecdotal holiday shopping data from Web storefronts jibes with a study conducted in October for Clinique, which found that 21 percent of U.S. women with Internet connections planned to shop online for the holiday season, up from 11 percent in 1997.

Some 31 percent of women--but just 13 percent of men--had bought items worth $100 or less in the previous 12 months, according to the survey. Forty-four percent of men claimed to have spent $100-500, but just 42 percent of women spent that same amount, Jupiter found. Forty-three percent of men spent more than $500, while only 25 percent of women did the same.

International Data Corporation expects the online gender gap among Net users to shift toward women in 1999.

"The feminization of the Internet is a very important shift, because women seek out different Web destinations than men, spend less time surfing online, and are the primary decision-makers in the majority of household purchases," said IDC analyst Frank Gens.