Web Usability: Are Men Hunters & Women Browsers?

Andy King, author of Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets posted Usability Study: Men Need Speed yesterday — citing a study by Southern Illinois University on how men and women use the web. The researchers found that both men’s and women’s top priority is ease of use, with web speed men’s second choice, and easy navigation women’s.

Does this mean that in general, men are “hunters” and women are “browsers” online? If so, this is not unlike the offline world. In ‘Men Buy, Women Shop’: The Sexes Have Different Priorities When Walking Down the Aisles (from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), men ranked “difficulty in finding parking close to the store’s entrance” as their number one shopping problem (29%). Women’s top beef was “lack of help when needed,” and one woman stated her favorite store’s sales associates “are always great. They always show me different styles. They will show me something new that’s come in.” A man of similar age responded “I haven’t had much interaction with most sales people. I don’t really need them — as long as they’re at the checkout.”

The differences don’t stop there:

  • Women Shop Like Santa, Men Shop Like Scrooge. Women start their holiday shopping earlier than men, usually shop for more gift recipients. Men are more likely to become angry and frustrated by holiday shopping. (I also recall a study a couple years back by BIG Research that claimed men are more likely to grab gifts for themselves, mostly electronics).
  • Men prefer coupons, women prefer sales. Perhaps this is because a coupon can be applied to something a guy already knows he wants, the coupon is a predictable discount and an extra incentive to reward himself. A sale applies to a number of products, the “fun” for women is browsing the sale to find great deals – it’s recreation. The reward is finding treasure and feeling like you deserve it because you found such a great bargain.
  • Guys think about what can benefit them now, while ladies think about what benefits them long term. Perhaps that’s why women browse sales, they keep there eyes open for things they can wear next year or stash away for a future Christmas gift.
  • Men and women may buy the same products, but for different reasons. As Future Now’s Holly Buchanan points out, you can use customer reviews to identify which product attributes and benefits men and women rant or rave about.

So what?

Should you build a male site and female site with different colors, copy, imagery, products, navigation and page load speed? Of course not. It’s important to optimize for fast loading pages and logical, usable navigation for everyone. But you should look at your site and ask if your design and content decisions were made with bias. Personal finance site Mint.com’s redesign boosted performance by 20%, and Future Now’s Jeff Sexton suspects it’s because the new design is more female-friendly.

When promoting Kindle, Amazon targeted a men and women differently (recognizing logged-in site members) by showing male or female hands in the promotional banner.

If you use customer surveys like ForeSee Results, you can gather your own site-specific research. Ask for survey participant’s gender – but make it optional. Identify which are men’s biggest complaints about your site, and women’s. Make sure to ask ease-of-use, site speed and navigation oriented questions like “Please rate how well the features on [website] help you find the product(s) you are looking for” and “Please rate how quickly pages load on [website].”

Consider segmenting your email lists by gender (provided you asked in your sign up process) and testing coupon vs. sale headlines, imagery and even timing (start sending holiday emails earlier to females, or send fewer holiday emails to men).


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