Women and the Internet: Excuse me, coming through!

Since its beginning, the Internet has been a male dominated medium. Today, the balance may be tipping the other way, as the numbers show the importance of women coming online in the US and Latin America.

Since its beginning, the Internet has been a male dominated medium, where men have, for the most part, surfed for information and recreation alike. Today, the balance may be tipping the other way, as the numbers show the importance of women coming online in the US and Latin America.

Today, those numbers are rapidly catching up and men are having to move over as women are coming from behind, potentially becoming an online majority.

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“If you look at the trend of say four years ago, 75% of Internet users were male in Latin America,“ said Noah Elkin, eLatin America Senior Analyst for eMarketer. “If you look today, it's about a 60-40 split, with men 60 and women 40.”

In the US, according to an eMarketer study “Wired Women”, by year-end 2001 women will achieve parity online and by the year 2003, women will outnumber men online by more than two million users. Although the numbers for Latin America are not available, it is clear that the growing proportion of female Internet users reflects the fact that there are female majorities in countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.

As the region’s Internet population is heading more and more towards gender parity, the focus of e-commerce is turning to women, their tastes and online spending.

“You can look at broader societal trends in that there are more women attending the university and entering the workforce,” said Elkin. Given their growing Internet usage and growing economic power, women represent a very lucrative online marketing target.

When setting their eyes on Latin America, most companies focus on the region’s top three markets: Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, respectively. These three countries make up almost 65% of the region’s 9.9 million Internet users, and Brazil alone, represents 40% of the total. It is not only the largest Internet market in the region, but also one of the most gender equal.

According to eMarketer, the number of Internet users in the region is expected to increase dramatically over the next four years, from 9.9 million in 2000 to 15.3 million in 2001, and to 40.8 million in 2004.

If the trend continues and gender parity is reached, women will most likely make up half of the region’s Internet users.

Different tastes?
“In most cases in Latin America, the average male has been online longer than the average female, so they are more comfortable of shopping online,” Elkin said.

However he believes that as women become more active and Internet savvy, they will become less weary of shopping online.

In terms of what each gender prefers to buy online, “they tend to buy pretty much the same - CDs, computer software and hardware, books, tickets.”

One would think that if women’s interest, needs and priorities are different from those of men, this would change the interests, needs and priorities of the companies catering to the online consumer.

According to Elkin, the market is still too small to diversify. “I think you have to look in the immediate and then in the long run, and the picture might be slightly different,” he said. “I think most companies are banking on the idea that the market in the long run will be different, in that it will be larger than it is now.”

Last year, numerous Web sites catering to Latin American women, both in Spanish and in Portuguese were launched into the market to tap this rapidly growing minority. However, many fell short of their expectations.

“I think that one of the lessons to be learned from last year, in Latin America certainly, is that it’s a little bit early to start segmenting the market. The market is still small enough that it's difficult to have a site that just caters only to women. I think that may emerge as the e-commerce market matures.”