How Women Decide Online

Gender and Decision-Making

Sophia Eng
Sep 6, 2017 · 11 min read

The topic of gender-disparity in the workplace is one that touches close to home for me and many of my colleagues as women and minorities in tech.

A few weeks ago, I set off to research what effects there are to businesses as a whole, when women are underrepresented.

I wanted to look at women business owners as well as women consumers, in order to create better buying experiences for females. Though we know that there is inequality of women in tech, how do we approach the inequality of research into female buyers?

As a conversion rate optimization (CRO) and growth marketing expert with a background in science and psychology, I am driven to provide optimal experiences for customers in order to get the best results for my business clients.

Women Are Hyper-Buyers

Once you get their loyalty and they love the experience, they are 22.19% more likely than men to come back and buy the product or service regardless of price, quality, or convenience.

But before we dive further into female consumers, let’s back up a step and look at women business owners who are working to create experiences for clients right now.

In the course of talking to women business owners, the topic of getting their website built is treated as a first step in creating their business.

This made me ask, “Why is it that women business owners focus more on the design aesthetics of their website and products and packaging? Why do we think that somehow our website is a reflection of how competent we are?”

As I started doing research, I came upon something very interesting:

The way women approach building websites is based on the fact that we are actually creating experiences that would cause us, as females, to buy.

This is how we, as women, function as consumers. When we create our brands, websites, and products, we are thinking about what we would want in an experience.

The problem is that nobody is really talking about this! Or researching this! Or even giving this serious attention and thought!

As a result, the majority of women consumers are being underserved with poor experiences when they buy things. And women business owners are often ridiculed for pursuing the perfect “look”, because business courses, coaches, and teachers have no idea that the perfect “look” is absolutely central and imperative to female consumers.

To drive the point home: females make up 51% of the world population.

Women As Business Owners

Women who get into business are more focused on how pretty their website is versus if it’s actually effective.

Well, of course we are. Because for us, that IS effectiveness. We are thinking:

“If I were to buy from myself…”

⚪ Would I want to buy this?
⚪ Would I be impressed by this?
⚪ Would this work for me?

Since nearly all sales and CRO data is focused on “general” buying behavior (which is very male-centric behavior), women consumers and business owners are being invalidated.

(The good news is that the disruptors in product design, website experience, and branding are realizing this disparity and bringing in some serious innovation. And a lot of them are women.)

My personal expertise is in growth hacking online, especially as it relates to website experience. Shockingly enough, it took me several weeks of research to find ANY information about women consumers as a point of focus.

When a woman lands on a website that doesn’t look or feel legitimate to us, we are extremely unlikely to make a purchase decision. We’re heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the site.

This is different from men.

The majority of growth hackers and CRO specialists (which is a field dominated by men) often only ask which button is going to grab the general buyer attention.

They’re looking for the most “efficient” wins possible, and typically look only at the data without empathy for gender discrepancies.

If you have an audience that consists largely of women consumers, you need to ask the question: does this design FLOW?

Page flow is the ultimate sign of competency for a woman. The way information is delivered on a page (the design) is just as important as the information itself.

In fact, if a page doesn’t flow appropriately, a woman won’t absorb most of the information in front of them.

When a website does not flow for women, it’s a jarring experience and we exit the page. Something in our evolutionary brain tells us that this isn’t safe, it isn’t the best route, and it will put us in danger if we make a choice.

Ultimately, that is what stands between you and your female consumers.

Unless you’re targeting a group of women with a very particular and acute pain that they want solved immediately, your lack of design flow is going to kill your conversion. (And even if you do target that group, design flow is going to increase your conversion many fold, so it’s worth taking the time to actually design something that looks and flows nicely.)

Has anyone really talked about this? No, not really, and not to the extent it needs to be.

Everyone in the CRO community is basically treating consumers as a group. The problem is that the motivations and cues for men to buy, versus women, are not the same.

Yet, we are approaching sales as if we are talking to men because that’s what most generalized CRO data is based on.

This is called confirmation bias — when the majority of people leading an industry are men, they are apt to create hypotheses around and look for proof to validate their biases. (Another reason why we need more women in business.)

The irony of this? Women typically control 80% of their household spending.

As I said before, I had to dig deep to find any CRO tests that focused specifically on women.

One interesting study I was able to find came from Chris Orlob at (one of the few companies doing gender-based seller/buyer research). They studied the conversion rates of seller/buyer gender combinations on sales calls and found that:

Man-to-Man selling has sharply lower conversion rates than Woman-to-Woman selling. Women seem to be more effective at selling to men than men are at selling to women.

A key takeaway? “When you have a woman decision maker in a key deal, your best bet is getting your top saleswoman on the case.

We need more in-depth studies on the unique psychology of female consumers, especially when trying to understand how female consumers make decisions online.

I strongly want to call upon CRO and tester companies to start thinking about this differently. The experience women want to have vs. men is entirely different.

The other day I was chatting with a good female friend of mine. She’s in the CRO space and encounters the obstacles of male vs. female buying behavior frequently. She gave me an example, but asked to remain anonymous, for the sake of professionalism.

During the last holiday season my friend’s client needed a page to sell gift cards to women who were buying gifts for men. Clearly, the page needed to focus on women, and getting women to convert — even if the company itself was selling products for men.

Every step of the test, my friend had to fight for what she knew was right. The page needed both copy and design that was aimed at women. After weeks of arguing, she only got the green light for the copy. They simply would not budge on the design. It needed to match their past sales pages. They even brought in a third party UX “expert” — another man — to agree and prove their point.

After exhausting herself trying to take a stand for what she knew was right for female consumers (but could find little evidence to prove her point), my friend gave up.

They used her copy, and it converted at an average rate. However, the heatmaps proved my friend’s point.

Most of the women who landed on the page didn’t become engaged or stay for longer than 30 seconds. The retargeting for the campaign performed lower than any of the other campaigns my friend performed for the company. And this was the ONLY campaign aimed at women.

Not only did the company miss out on much higher conversions, but the engagement rate on page and the retargeting results proved my friend was correct.

Unfortunately, businesses are only being taught in a general sense about CRO. CRO principles and the focus on buying psychology is very much based on male buying patterns.

This is not to say that men are invalid or that they aren’t buyers. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that 51% of the population on Earth are women. Historically, women are the primary buyers for their families.

Which means that when you’re creating a sales page using generalized information that is based primarily off of the male perspective of testing and caters to male buying patterns, you’re missing out on appealing to 51% of the population.

And it would be so simple to fix, if you took just a little extra time to design your page in a way that engages someone aesthetically, to deliver your sales message.

Now, because women business owners and marketers are being taught general CRO principles (which are based mostly off of male patterns of buying behavior) they’re missing out on a large part of their audience that they can easily and naturally appeal to.

LADIES: When you’re worried about something like the look of your logo, the design of your website, that fancy membership site setup, how to package your product, etc. There is a reason why, and it’s a GOOD reason. You’re trying to appeal to buyers who buy like YOU.

The reason why you're doing this is because you intuitively know that is how you would buy. That's largely what you would base your buying decisions on. (Obviously, good copy and a great product are part of that equation, too.)

And guess what? 51% of the population agrees with you. 51% of the population that controls 80% of household spending, agrees with you. So it’s not illegitimate.

However, we have to find a balance right between what is effective and gets finished, and what is going to appeal on the deepest level to our female users. Since 51% of those users are females, we should focus on how we’re going to appeal to them.

Plus, this isn’t just about women as business owners, but women in general! Don’t you (business owner or not), want to have better buying experiences? Better products? Don’t we deserve that?

Since we’re major drivers of the world economy, we shouldn’t have to settle for subpar experiences and a lack of interest in our buying behaviors.

In searching for more scientific evidence, it quickly became clear that there is a severe lack of user studies on how women versus men make decisions. Men and women approach purchasing decisions with entirely different motives, perspectives, rationales, and considerations.

With my background in psychology, I was shocked. The psychological differences between men and women are studied ad nauseum. (For the armchair psychologists — men are from mars and women are from venus, right?) These are principles that can easily be applied on page and tested with users… but it’s simply not being done.

Even neuroscience has been looking at the difference between male and female brains.

“Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women’s brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men’s brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions.”

This suggests that men are wired to focus on efficiency and speed. They have a more singular focus, on average.

Women, on the other hand, have activity bouncing back and forth across hemispheres. It’s suggesting that women have better recall in how they pay attention to more details, and they make decisions from how they feel.

To be clear, technically everyone, male or female, makes decisions from how they feel. However, it appears that women are drawing up many more memories in the process to support their emotional hypothesis of a situation.

Considering this is just preliminary studies with loose suggestions, I can’t imagine what details will emerge as studies go deeper into brain differences.

I could keep going, but I hope this begins to spark some inspiration for marketers, business owners, and especially CRO specialists.

It’s time we do some basic segmentation for experience, and see how much better the buying experience and subsequent conversion improves when we cater pages to women vs. men.

Testing For The Win:

Create a sales experience for women, and test it on women. Then test it on men. How do they perform differently? Now design a sales experience based on the average CRO principles (which are male-centric). Test it on women, then test it on men. How do they perform differently?

While it may take a little bit longer, I believe it’s worth the most bang for your buck.

The lifetime value of a female customer is higher than a male customer.

Now isn’t that worth creating a few tests?

Sophia Eng is a growth advisor and consultant to women in startups and small businesses, and Founder of Women in Growth, a community dedicated to empowering women to grow businesses. She has been the driving force behind the revenue and user growth at top SaaS companies: Autodesk, Workday, and now InVision, using buyer psychology as the backbone of her strategies and insights. Companies choose Sophia due to her track record of getting the best results in the shortest amount of time, while maximizing promotion and growth budgets. Using her background in science and psychology, Sophia has paired with ConversionXL to teach growth marketing through the lens of effective persuasive psychology.

Sophia has a special focus on empowering female entrepreneurs, as well as pushing the agenda for more in-depth studies on the unique psychology of female consumers.

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Sophia Eng

Written by

VP Marketing @TradeTheFifth. Founder, Women in Growth. Formerly @InVisionApp @Workday @Autodesk. Startup Mentor Optimizing for Happiness, Designing for Growth.