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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19 Responses to “Web Usability: Are Men Hunters & Women Browsers?”

  1. Jeff says:

    Although I’m always thrilled to be held in the same company with Holly Buchanan, I think Holly might object to my being *identified* as her ; )

    Still, thanks for the track back on the mint article! Always love reading your stuff.

    - Jeff

  2. I actually thought this article had some good humorous headers in it and was funny….

    Yes, notice to the world, men and women are different in many ways. Modern thought today is telling us this is not so.

    But you can not argue with the truth that men and women are truly different.

  3. Mark says:


    it most likely goes further than just the “hunters” analogy.

    Some men are farmers, others builders, and some gardeners etc etc.

    Just stereotyping by gender could be dangerous.

    If we’ve all read Bryan and Jeffrey’s work on personas, then we know we need to design for between four and seven different personality types. (where will it all end? lol)

    Anyway, another great post. I always find your blog worth reading.

  4. Mark says:


    it most likely goes further than just the “hunters” analogy.

    Some men are farmers, others builders, and some gardeners etc etc.

    Just stereotyping by gender could be dangerous.

    If we’ve all read Bryan and Jeffrey’s work on personas, then we know we need to design for between four and seven different personality types. (where will it all end? lol)

    Anyway, another great post. I always find your blog worth reading.
    PS: Forgot to add good post!

    • @Mark, just some background on hunter/browser – “hunters” are web users (male/female) that know what they want when they come to your site, “browsers” want to look around and are not sure what they want. Maybe this wasn’t the best choice of words for the headline of this post, especially if one is not familiar with the hunter/browser terminology :)

      You are absolutely right about the personas too – if we get granular enough combining personas with purchase role, purchase context, economic factors etc. we truly have 1-to-1 marketing! Example, male, methodical with humanistic tendencies, purchasing for company, deadline tomorrow, budget of $500…

  5. I’d like to point you to another research, from forrester and quite a nice tool to see the results, http://www.forrester.com/Groundswell/ladder.html
    It shows you the behaviour in age groups , gender and location.

    It does not show significant differences in gender as you talk about, but does in age and location. (check out europe, then france, germany and UK.
    It might suggest you’d need configure your international site’s functionalities based ip location and targetgroup age.

    Men may be from mars,but on the internet the difference from venus may be less than we’d expect.

    From my own experience i can tell that what people do respond to is personalization, so id user has a family, show a family banner, etc.

  6. Being a rather large etailer we figured we would give our 2 cents here. The ratio of online orders we get between men and woman are generally 10-2 the majority being men. Seems the ultimate buying decision among married couples lands on the man.

  7. Sweim says:

    Just a quick question, how do you find out the gender of your audience? I mean its uncommon to see a question about gender during the checkout process. Do you make educated guesses base on the customers’ names?

  8. John Hyde says:


    That’s a photo of me :-) Were you in Christchurch recently ?

    But the lady is not my wife.

  9. Mark says:

    Hey Linda,

    Yeh, I knew what you meant with the original “hunter/browser” analogy.

    I guess I just wanted to make the point about avoiding “gender stereotyping”, and do that in a short response.

    Some of us, after all, could talk about this stuff all day and love it. (lol)

  10. Good post. Very true points, I can imediatelly relate it to how my wife and I shop; I mean, she shops and I’m buying stuff :)

    Sometimes I think I just do need to be that proactive when buying clothes for instance :)

    Also I can say as I could observe women use discussion boards, forums and IMs to help themselves (actually, each other…) shopping right. What I also noticed was that men also like to go social about stuff but only a f t e r they buy it, mostly with light flavor of boasting :)

    cheers men and women of the World! Be different and mutually benefit each other :)

  11. haha! I liked the article.. a smart one..

  12. the website should for both men and women, but i think should pay more attention to the women.

  13. [...] diferencia de mujeres compradoras, frente a los hombres. Sin embargo, el estudio de usabilidad Web, Los hombres son cazadores, y las mujeres navegantes, nos ayuda a comprender los diferentes comportamientos entre sexos a la hora de realizar una compra [...]

  14. NRI says:

    Funnily enough, the only thing this comment thread has inspired for me is a desire to teach everyone the difference between “men” and “women”

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  16. [...] Men, Women, and E-Commerce (2006), Women versus men online: shopping habits (2008), Web Usability: Are Men Hunters & Women Browsers? (2009); Photo by pescatello window.fbAsyncInit = function() { FB.init({appId: "", status: true, [...]

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