For more subjective purchases, Web sites need to be "more than just a catalog," said Kenney. "Before, when you were looking (on e-commerce sites) at predominantly male items like electronic toys or commodity items like books, you didn't have as much of a magazine, editorial feel," he said. "Now people want to find out about the product -- they want to find out from a fashion statement point of view who's wearing what, who's not wearing what."
And women are already comfortable shopping that way offline, said Ellen Pack, senior vice president and general manager of Women.com. Women are very accustomed to shopping through catalogues for such subjective items as clothing, so there's no inherent opposition to their doing so online. "There was an assumption in the early days that things you didn't have to touch and feel would be the ones to sell well -- books, electronics, things like that. People assumed women wouldn't buy things like clothing and accessories online," Pack said.
"Our experience shows that's not true. They got trained on catalogues, and they're ready to buy things online as long as they know customers service is there to back them up." Women.com is launching a new clothing and accessories boutique next month to take advantage of that interest, said Pack. But like Kenney, she said that context is important when selling to women. And, she said, her site is trying to push the impulse buy by more tightly linking the commerce experience to editorial content.
"Obviously an (offline) environment with a personal touch is different," said Pack. But online, you can set up a situation in which a woman "is reading about skincare and might want to go over and buy products online, and there it is."