Web Informant #205, 6 July 2000:
eCommerce for her, another dumb idea


A number of web storefronts are offering up specialized shopping sections for women. Call it eCommerce for her. It is almost always a really bad idea.

Take AutoByTel, which sells cars, among other things. Why should women have their own series of pages, complete with recommended models and driving tips? Isn't this somewhat demeaning, let alone patronizing? Do the folks at AutoByTel think that more women are going to come and look at cars because of this? I don't think so. Are there specific cars that more women buy than men? I am sure there are. But don't put up a few pages on your site telling me this. Provide better service, better tools for anyone to find what they are looking for.

Women shop online for the same reasons as men do: because they can find what they are looking for at the right price and get the goods without having to leave the comfort of their own desktop. They go to the storefronts they go to not because the pages have pink backgrounds, or have some nice feminine touches or content geared towards them. They go there because the storefronts have the right selection of goods and have the reputation to deliver them and service the customer properly.

Sure, there are some sites that should segregate their content by sex: look at sites selling women's clothing or other gender-specific items. But you'd expect that. The best thing these sites can do is set up solid search tools to focus on products of interest by gender, or whatever the shopper is trying to find.

Even with a good search tool, adding women-specific content to a clothing storefront can be touchy: look at the pages that FogDog (a sporting goods site) has set up called her.fogdog.com. Other than the predictable items specifically for women, the whole notion is rather lame and somewhat offensive. And I am a man!

You'll note on both AutoByTel and FogDog there aren't any "for him" pages of content geared specifically for men. Was that because the site designers had already created the "main" site for men and were just now getting around to putting up a few pages in the female HTML ghetto? Or because they already assumed that men don't want to deal with specialized pages and can roam around their entire sites freely?

If we look around the Internet for a much better idea of gender-oriented content, a great example is what the Car Guys on NPR radio do with their site, called Car-O-Scope.

For those of you whom have never tuned into their radio show, they are two brothers, one of whom owns a physical garage in Cambridge, Mass. They provide call-in advice for people with car problems, both men and women, and use the opportunity to tell lots of jokes in the process. But they really do know their cars, behind all the kidding and yucks.

The Car-O-Scope matches your personality with that of others who have purchased your car, and it is a good way to determine if you and your partner have matching needs for a shared automobile. There is a survey at the link above, and you are notified of the results within a day via email. It is a truly great idea for several reasons:

First, it is uncannily accurate, in the way that the best horoscopes can be. Of course, some of that is wish fulfillment, but still. Second, it is a bunch of laughs. What they tell you about yourself is full of wit and whimsy, something we all could use more of. Finally, they are collecting information about you (your email address) but providing a great service in return, so you are more inclined to look with favor about parting with this information.

So if you are responsible for your web storefront strategy, think about creating great content that can be inclusive, not divisive. And that will make for a better web shopping experience for everyone.

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David Strom
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