Women in Society Volume 6, Autumn 2013 ISSN 2042-7220 (Print)
ISSN 2042-7239 (Online) Volume 1, Spring 2011
ISSN 2042-7220 (Print)
ISSN 2042-7239 (Online)
Male and Female Attitudes to Online Shopping
Rhian James, BA Business and Law Student, University of South Wales
Keywords: Online Shopping, Internet, Attitudes, Trends, Gender Stereotypes
This research paper will attempt to examine and explore the available literature regarding why men have dominated and are dominating the online shopping domain. It will look at the reasons behind these conclusions such as; computer acceptance, aversion to risk and behaviours and attitudes to online shopping. Traditionally, shopping is regarded as a feminine activity and women generally shop more than men in the high street, but the emergence of e-shopping has seen a shift in this trend and it is important to explore why this has happened, if it is still the case and what might happen in the future.
Attitudes to Shopping
According to Li et al (1999) men have accepted and are interested in using, more than one specific channel to market. They are much more accepting of the use of technology and favour using the internet as an intermediary, when shopping, compared to women. Awad and Ragowsky (2008) suggested that one of the main reasons for this is that men do not associate shopping with emotion: they do not have an issue with trust and loyalty. When searching for and buying a product online men do not perceive the transaction as a risk, whereas women tend to if they haven’t built a rapport beforehand, with a retailer. They proposed that websites should be tailored with gender in mind: men prefer more factual and quantitative information with the emphasis based upon the outcome and space where they can post their own opinions. Men are not concerned with interacting with others and are not interested in reviews by other consumers. In comparison, women tend to look for information posted by others, look for where they can ask questions, interact and respond to questions and have theirs responded to. Doolin et al (2005) confirmed the ideas above, insinuating that women value the traditional shopping experience and place more emphasis on the social benefits it provides for them. Men perceive the convenience and easiness of the process to be more valuable. By being emotionally removed, the issues women have with online shopping are generally not applicable to men.
Male Engagement with Online Shopping
Hasan (2010) believed that the reason men are more engaged with online shopping is due to factors such as specific personal attributes, behaviours and attitudes. He stated that one of the main reasons men tend to shop more online is because their attitude remains the same in both traditional and online shopping. With this being the case, it is obvious why the online shopping model would be more suitable to men: they tend to treat shopping as a mission with the aim to go in, locate the item, purchase and get away. Men have adapted to e-shopping better because of their uneasiness with the social experience in the high street; the environment is much more relaxed, effective, efficient and less time consuming. Men perceive the benefits of online shopping to be greater than those of traditional shopping because their intention is to purchase, rather than to browse or research products. Specific objectives are easily achieved online because a product can be pin pointed effortlessly and efficiently, which is important for men because their general attitude is much more goal focused and target driven.
Dennis and McCall (2005) argued that men are engaged online because of the technological element. They believe the success e-shopping has had with men is due to this major factor. Men have been reported to be more frequent computer users and in turn, internet users. Internet usage may be a pre-determining factor. Liu and Forsythe (2010) found that consumers already using the internet, reported to have been men in the past, were more likely to adopt and incorporate the internet into the shopping activity because of their familiarity and experience with the internet and inherit trust in web-pages. It also suggested that that they will not be afraid of new innovations and are likely to respond better to advances and changes in the channel to market. They believed that traditional stores will try to engage more men by using technology in the future because of the success in relation to e-shopping. They have considered that for men, shopping is not regarded as a leisure activity, so the traditional process does not satisfy men’s needs because they regard shopping as an operation that has a specific start and finish. Technology has assisted enormously with speeding up this process. Incorporating the internet and computers has made the experience appear a more masculine activity (Dennis and McCall,2005). It is important to note that these findings are not conclusive and as evidence evolves some academics argue that there is no relation between e-shopping and gender (Goldsmith and Goldsmith, 2002). Kaplan (2011) also suggested that the emergence of social networks has engaged more women in online shopping because of the availability of conversing, liking and giving feedback about products easily and effectively. She suggested that there is no longer a significant difference between genders when shopping online and the stereotype between men, technology, women and shopping no longer exists.
Female Engagement with Online Shopping
Zhou et al (2007) suggested that there is a negative perception surrounding women and technology. It has been reported that women more than men are doubtful about the authenticity of online shopping and sometimes shy away from the unknown. Women can become frustrated by having to navigate the computer, data and internet at once, especially if they are apprehensive about adopting and using technology: it becomes a challenging task. It is sexist to assume that technology in general is a male domain, but in relation to online shopping it may originate from the fact that when it emerged the products available were generally aimed and targeted at men. Products that are electronic and digital in nature were more widely and readily available at first, rather than products that females were reportedly more interested in, such as groceries, apparel and home furnishings (Hasan, 2010). Women may have been slow adopting and adapting to online shopping because they were uninterested in the items available. Herring (2003) addressed the issues between females and technology and suggested that as it evolves the issues will fade and become irrelevant. At first, women considered the whole process of learning how to use the computer and internet to be too time consuming and required too much effort. They were reluctant to utilise a new shopping method that required time and effort because they were so content with the traditional platform: there wasn’t a need for a replacement. In comparison, men have been reported to be dissatisfied with the shopping experience in the high street: this would suggest that they would welcome and favour an alternative channel (Hart et al, 2007). Herring’s article considered how the evolution of the internet has become much more main stream and adopted an uncomplicated design and interface to appeal to a wider market which will then appear familiar, secure and reliable because it is more transparent. This may indicate why more modern findings are reporting that there is no significant difference between men and women when shopping online.
The Importance of Enjoyment
When considering the behaviour and attitude of males shopping online, academics have described them as objective focused. Chiou and Ting (2011) suggested that consumers of this nature prefer an informative product description, extensive product details and a clear concise list of functions. They are not concerned with the process of researching, comparing prices and browsing, as this is regarded as ‘enjoyable’. Men do not like to associate shopping with enjoyment but instead think of it as a purposeful activity. Monsuwe et al (2004) implied that these consumers often find shopping a chore and expected the internet to enhance the shopping experience by making it effortless. They expect web pages to be structured and organised as well as being easy to navigate. For this type of consumer to be satisfied with the online shopping experience, it must have met their preconceived expectations and provided them with their expected result, with as little annoyance as possible. Men have viewed the internet as a solution to problems caused by the traditional shopping experience; they see it as easy to use, productive and effective. Drawing on this conclusion, it is fair to categorize men as utilitarian shoppers, as opposed to women who use the activity for hedonic benefit. Women tend to look for enjoyment and entertainment while shopping, exhibiting traits of a hedonic shopper. In order for women to perceive the online shopping experience as positive, it must have provoked playfulness and pleasure. Females value shopping as a standalone experience and appreciate it for the perceived value and benefits it offers. If the internet wishes to share the profit in this market, a positive experience would incite women to escape reality and feel stimulated by the products available, website design and general purchasing process. If companies can successfully do this it would lead to women appreciating the experience and in turn browsing, resulting in impulsive and unplanned purchases. This may explain why men have been reported to shop more online because the impersonality of a web page and transaction may deter women because of the lack of enjoyment and interaction. However, Burke (2002) proposed that the women that do prefer to shop online do so more regularly than males, but in general if females intended to shop at home they would be more likely to use catalogues. This is possibly an area that could provoke more research to find out how to entice women online, if the findings show that when online they purchase more frequently than men.
Risk and Online Shopping
Garbarino and Strahilevitz (2004) indicated that women associate risk with their readiness to shop online, a negative result or experience of using the web would have severe implications on whether they would use this channel to market again. Unlike women, men do not tend to perceive there to be a risk, because the positive attributes eliminate fear: they value the activity for convenience, speed and efficiency. Bartel Sheehan (1999) identified that there may be a link between risk and privacy. Offline, women are concerned about the loss and invasion of privacy, which is only enhanced when online, and they cannot physically see the transaction being processed, the handling of data concerned and what is happening with their details which add to their apprehensiveness. Cyr et al (2007) put forward that there is a direct correlation between social presence and loyalty online for women specifically. Considering the inherent issues women have with shopping online this suggested that females needed to be engaged and enjoy the virtual experience in order to purchase and return to purchase.
The Importance of Visual Images and Interactive Elements
Cyr et al’s results illustrated that it is fair to categorize men as utilitarian shoppers because enjoyment had no link with loyalty: instead they requested more information about the product and web page in general (2007). Men take a cold and clinical approach to shopping online and they will return to a webpage to purchase if they have been given enough hard facts. In comparison women wanted to be attracted to and drawn in, highlighting their need for visual, attractive, emotive and interactive elements. Online vendors need to find tools and designs that replicate the social experience in the high street, for example chat rooms, forums and being linked with social media sites. It highlighted that females also like to be involved in every step of the process and preferred web pages that offered a sense of community and protection. If they were to incorporate a platform where they can share opinions and explore feedback women are more likely to show a likeness to the webpage and purchasing process. In order to develop trust, women need to be able to interact with the virtual site and the information must be both credible and valuable. According to Montuwe et al (2004) the reason why women find it so much more difficult to trust an online vendor is because they feel powerless. Women tend to be more tactile and exhibit traits that make them want to and need to physically view and touch products before being fully satisfied. The issue with trust may be rooted in the removal of a physical salesperson that is available to offer guidance, expertise and advice. They almost act like a safety tool and women rely upon their friendliness and geniality in order to make a decision to purchase a specific item. Online this person is replaced with help and search features that are not as necessarily useful as a salesperson. It is debateable whether the internet may ever be able to offer an alternative to human interaction that is just as fulfilling for women. In comparison men do not like to be engaged but rather remain anonymous and form their own opinions about products. For vendors this is crucial information in order to be able to meet and satisfy different requirements portrayed by different genders.
Batechelor (2009) reported on the findings of a survey carried out by Paypal suggesting that around 2.6 million more men shop online than women. However, according to a report by Mintel (2012) women are now the leading purchasers online, they have also suggested the reasons for this. Due to the current economy in the UK more mothers and women in general have been forced into full time work, reducing the time they have available for leisure activities such as shopping. This has forced them to seek a more convenient channel to market, hence the adoption of the internet. In today’s society women are more computer literate and internet accepting, because of the workplace and availability of broadband and computers. Although, with less disposable income readily available, women have learned to navigate the internet to seek out a bargain and utilise platforms such as comparison sites, discount codes and group buying opportunities, which have become extremely useful tools. They have accepted e-shopping and utilised it in a way to suit their needs and still fulfil the enjoyable and hedonic benefits of shopping. Men, although quicker to accept e-shopping, do not browse or bargain hunt but just utilise the platform in a simple way, receiving it as it is, for purchasing. Women have also realised the benefits of being able to access websites at all times of the day without having the stress of taking their families to the high street. Men have appeared to adopt e-shopping better because they have always preferred speed, effectiveness and convenience when shopping, arguably it has taken women longer but now they have grasped it, it is questionable whether they are the better shopper online, because of their need for bargain hunting and seeking out the best available products. Dennis et al (2002) proposed another reason for this perception about men shopping more online than women: their research showed that it would not be accurate to just look at purchasing figures because women use the internet to browse and seek products but then go into the physical store to buy them. This evidence suggested that women do not shy away from the online experience but instead chose to indulge themselves in both channels to receive the optimum benefits. It is important to look at how this trend will develop in the future and if there is any significant difference between genders in relation to the features explored in this review.
Barriers to Online Shopping
Other barriers that exist in relation to gender and shopping online are what products are available on the websites, who the purchase is for, and the importance of and reliance on the product being purchased. If the product serves a purpose in the house, for a special occasion or event and the consumer relies heavily upon its purchase, it tends to involve more thought, time and hesitance. For both genders products of this nature tend to cause dithering online because of the implications a negative outcome would provoke. If a product is needed for a specific event, consumers need to fully trust the internet pictures and details because if it arrives and is not right, they have to weigh up whether they will have enough time to return it and the effort it will take. In contrast, just one trip to the high street store to view the physical product and judge for themselves whether it will serve the required purpose, is required. Even though men tend to be more specific and quick shoppers, this may become an issue for them because of the value placed upon the experience providing a positive outcome (Hansen and Jensen, 2009). Another issue is channel conflict: if a retailer has a physical store and an online space then if it is factual that women value and prefer the traditional shopping experience they will more likely go to the high street rather than the internet. This can be problematic if their products are specifically targeted at women and vice versa for retailers that have no online space and target their products at men who reportedly prefer shopping online.
In conclusion the available literature regarding e-shopping and the adoption by both men and women is inconclusive; this suggests that in the future more extensive research may be carried out in this area. This may be an important aspect for marketers in regards to how they build and advertise their websites, learning what products appeal more to whom, could prove profitable. It appears that when the Internet emerged men were happy to engage in online shopping and favoured using this channel to market because; they were much more familiar with technology usage, dissatisfied with the high street shopping experience, didn’t perceive risk, emotion, loyalty and trust as negative issues and were pleased with the convenience, efficiency and speed the internet offered. Women were slower to adopt the concept because, traditionally, it was perceived that they were afraid and apprehensive of the internet, concerned with the risk, security and privacy of buying online, didn’t trust e-tailers that didn’t have physical stores and were just too satisfied with hedonic benefits of the traditional experience. Reasons for this may include the difference in the female and male psyche, risk aversion, behaviours and attitudes and different definitions or reasons for shopping. Academics have found that men tend to be more functional, rational, reasoning and utilitarian in their shopping habits, whereas women use it a social tool and attach emotion, hedonic benefits and value the experience of the activity. It has been reported that women are much more tactile than men, requiring the need to touch and feel the physical goods, examine quality and judge sizes, which may always be a pitfall for online shopping whereas high street stores are trying to incorporate technology to engage men in shopping more offline. This suggests that this area requires more research to determine how to adapt and mould online stores in the future in order to attract the potential buyers they require. For certain stores that aim their products towards either men or women, this tool is priceless for their profitability. There is no doubt that in the future all offline retailers will adopt multi channels to market, they will have to be aware of channel cannibalisation, what tools and tactics to use to appeal to their desired market and how to entice apprehensive consumers to online buying. This review has looked at some elements in relation to gender, but other demographics that may also need more research are areas such as age, generation, marital status and sexuality when buying online as opposed to the high street.
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