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E-retailers' sites may not appeal to women

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WASHINGTON, Aug 11, 2005 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- What do people interested in fishing gear and beauty products have in common? Not much, except perhaps the Web sites they look at are remarkably similar, Welsh researchers have found.

A group at the University of Glamorgan studied men's and women's preferences regarding Web-site design and found that both fishing and beauty sites featured common design characteristics that appeal mostly to men. The implication, the researchers said, is businesses may not be targeting their shoppers effectively.

"Important practical implications flow from the finding that most Web sites are authored in a masculine Web aesthetic," research team member Gloria Moss told United Press International. "One implication is that this aesthetic may not always be appropriate in terms of the target market."

Moss conducted the study with colleagues Krzysztof Kubacki and Rod Gunn.

The resulting data revealed men and women have drastically different thoughts on what makes a good Web site, but most online retailers and universities in the United Kingdom have been creating pages that cater almost exclusively to men.

"I think as of now we're the only people in the world saying this," Moss said. "It's new, but I think it's important information."

Moss said her team studied Web sites created by 30 female and 30 male students, none of whom was an expert in Web design. After analyzing design and content features of the sites, they concluded there are 13 areas where sites designed by men and women had significant differences, she explained, adding that they found similar results when studying Web sites created by students in France and Poland.

Among the findings: Men prefer formal typography, few colors in both the typeface and background of Web sites, and straight lines -- particularly horizontal. Men also avoid abbreviations and like using formal language, while promoting themselves and boasting of their achievements. Moss also said the sites tended to include more photographs of members of the designers' gender, and men have more posed photographs than women. Women emphasize nature and living themes in their sites and use language that is not as formal.

The Glamorgan team then presented the male and female sites to a mixed-gender group and asked for feedback. Moss said the participants showed an "incredibly strong" preference for sites created by designers of the same gender -- information that could prove relevant for marketing purposes.

"There is obvious growth of the Internet as a marketing tool that can't be ignored," she said, "yet all the existing research comes from the assumption that there's a single best way for designing Web sites ... looking for Holy Grail of Web design. We wanted to test if that assumption was correct or not, particularly with men and women."

The team also analyzed the Web sites of 126 U.K. universities and discovered 95 percent featured characteristics that appealed to a male aesthetic, said ????? Gunn, the project's statistician.

Moss explained that U.K. university sites have relatively little color and are highly linear.

The trio also researched 300 online U.K. book retailers and found most were "produced in a very masculine idiom, even though the book market is fairly divided between men and women," Moss said.

In the United Kingdom, many women make purchases on behalf of their husbands at retail stores, Gunn explained. He said he became involved with the research when he realized the opposite trend was happening online -- his female friends frequently would turn to their husbands to make purchases.

Considering the amount of money businesses put into developing Web sites, Gunn said, it seems unusual they are not focusing on how to attract females. Part of the problem may be designers are taught what good structure is early on and then stick with it, he said, and that instruction does not include how to cater to both genders.

Gunn also said designers tend to mimic one another, and Web-design software itself may even contribute to the disparity.

"Where promotion and sales is concerned, (the Internet's) effectiveness relative to traditional media channels is estimated to be such that ten times as many units can be sold with one tenth of the advertising budget," the researchers wrote in a paper to be published in the International Journal of Applied Marketing.

Gunn praised the Web site of Accessorize, a clothing boutique in London, saying it was very female-oriented with pastoral colors and friendly navigation categorized "in terms of your needs, instead of what they want to sell you." Since the study, Accessorize has changed the look of its site.

Meanwhile, the trio criticized the Web site of Tesco, the largest U.K. grocer.

"Tesco places too much emphasis on masculine features for an online market that is split equally between men and women," they wrote in a separate paper to be published in the Journal of Consumer Behavior. "Improvements to the Web site could be made."

Patti Smith, a spokeswoman for, said she was unfamiliar with the new research. She said Amazon does not target consumers based on demographics but instead relies on making personal recommendations to shoppers.

A Yahoo! representative said he was unfamiliar with the study.

Moss said the University of Glamorgan now offers Web-consulting services and workshops to businesses interested in using the researchers' findings to improve the sites, but she declined to name any businesses using the services.

"(T)his isn't just theory." she said. "It's a very practical application."


Ryan Holeywell is an intern for UPI Science News. E-mail:

Copyright 2005 by United Press International.

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