For first time, more women than men shopping online

For the first time since the rise of the online retail boom in the late 1990s, women are spending more money shopping online than men, according to a nonprofit Internet research group.

In a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, women made up 58 percent of the online buyers between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2001, reversing a trend seen since online retailing became popular in the past few years.

The study also found that online retail spending was up from an average of US$330 per shopper in 2000 to $392 in the season just ended.

Similar results were reported yesterday by Dulles, Va.-based America Online Inc., which said its members spent record amounts shopping online last year, a trend aided by brisk holiday sales and a growing number of female shoppers.

AOL members spent $33 billion online using the company's Internet access services during 2001, 67 percent more than in the previous year, according to the company. Online holiday purchases totaled $7.2 billion alone, marking a record fourth quarter for the company. During the last quarter of the year, AOL members spent some $11 billion online, 72 percent more than in the same quarter of 2000. Women's and teens' apparel led 2001 sales, reflecting the fact that 64 percent of AOL's online shoppers are female.

Lee Rainie, director of the Washington-based Pew Internet and American Life Project, said he's not surprised women are now spending more online than men. But the shift took place faster than researchers had expected, he said.

When the Internet first emerged in the mid-1990s, most users were young, white males, he said. But by the first quarter of 2000, that had changed, with women overtaking men in Internet use, according to the group. It took women a few years to get comfortable with the medium and try online shopping. Now, that familiarity is being shown statistically.

Since women make more retail purchases in the off-line world, it was only a matter of time before it happened online, Rainie said. "It's basic social science, but it's finally catching up with reality," he said.

The Pew report also found that consumers didn't appear to flock to the Internet because of terrorism worries or anthrax fears in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Most shoppers went online because they found the experience convenient and satisfying, according to the research, not because they feared shopping in local malls.

Dave Taylor, an analyst at Robert Frances Group Inc. in Westport, Conn., said the higher online sales figures aren't surprising, but the speed in which women have embraced online shopping is notable.

"It grew faster than most of us would have predicted," Taylor said. Such growth wasn't expected until this year or even 2003, he said.

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