Why brands are failing to deliver the intuitive, online experiences that modern women crave

There are millions of modern, independent women with money in their pocket and the desire to spend it - but brands need to work harder to help them do so, warns Partners Andrews Aldridge's head of strategy.

Imagine a new retail market which is technologically connected, awash with disposable income, and has a global spending power larger than those of China and India combined. Brands would be bending over backwards to capitalise on its untapped potential – and any failing to do so would face a shareholder revolt.

Together, women make up the largest single market in the world. According to Forbes, they will add a further £9tn to the global economy in the next five years. Yet brands across the full retail spectrum, from cars to fashion to household goods, are still failing to create customer experiences which can capitalise on their enormous spending potential.

Within this market powerhouse, it’s the modern, independent women that lead the way. Defined as being aged 18-39, working full-time and with no children, this group is commercially the single most influential group in history. They are game changers, with more disposable income than ever before and the will to spend it on a multitude of products and experiences.

But at the same time, their everyday lives involve a wide range of challenges and pressures. According to Engine’s latest 21st Century Woman report, 44% of independent modern women find being a woman difficult, and 37% say the best word to describe them is "stressed". They’re also time-poor, with the competing demands of building a career and curating the perfect life meaning they perform an average of five roles outside their familial identities as sisters and daughters.

It’s an exhausting way to live, and it means that despite having more money than ever before, most independent modern women have too little time in which to spend it, and rely on mobile devices to access brands and services.

Online shopping is not a new phenomenon, but the modern, independent woman is taking this to the next level. According to Engine’s research, 100% of independent women shop online, with 98% having browsed within the past week. And the smartphone is her weapon of choice – whether that’s scrolling Instagram or downloading the apps of her favourite retailers.

But the independent woman demands more from the online experience, expecting services that are fast, easy to use and personalised to her needs. That’s where brands ought to come in, and some have got it right: the standard set by the likes of Asos, Amazon and eBay, including rapid service, free returns and next day deliveries, has raised the bar of expectations and ensured that today’s online shoppers won’t settle for anything less.

But beside these few success stories, most brands are failing to deliver the digital shopping experience that women crave. According to Engine’s research, 58% feel too many websites have poor navigation, 58% say websites need to be more intuitive, and 44% say mobile sites don’t do enough.

The scale of this missed opportunity is breathtaking. 88% of independent modern women browse retail sites every day but only 5% are buying. Closing that gap by only 1% could be worth billions. Every consumer brand should be asking itself how it can tailor its online experience to the needs of the independent modern woman.

Website design and navigation is key

Website and app design is paramount when it comes to capturing the attention of women and aligning your brand with their needs. Yet many brands are still failing to strike the right note.

One possible explanation is that the web design and development industry is still predominantly male – meaning even websites aimed at women are often conceived, designed and created by men. So while they might not necessarily have designed a website with men in mind, it should come as no surprise that male browsers tend to respond better to the online customer journey. The same principle would apply if a female team was designing a website – their own views and experiences would influence the end product.

Take the car industry, for example. The websites of car manufacturers tend to offer very little in the way of human engagement, storytelling or emotion – factors which research tells us are important to women when buying cars. Rather than catering for this need, pages tend to look like they’ve accidentally been designed for men, and it’s alienating the highly influential female market.

Women face a similar issue when it comes to navigation; 58% of modern, independent women feel too many websites have poor navigation, and this is having a detrimental impact on retailers’ ability to convert sales. Women want to be able to find what they’re looking for within seconds of entering a site; they want to be able to categorise items quickly to pull up the right results; and they want a payment process that’s simple and efficient.

Creating more balanced website design teams, and learning from the eBays and Amazons of this world is an easy win for retailers, and it’s amazing that so many are still not getting this right.

Merging the physical with the digital

While women are increasingly shopping digitally, the value they place on the instore experience should not be underestimated. In fact, 54% are influenced by what they see in shops, 26% use their phone to research items in-store, and 13% used phone to purchase while in-store.

We know that women increasingly want seamless, joined up customer experiences, and the brands that do this well keep customers coming back for more. Take John Lewis, for example. It recently invested in iPhones for its shop floor employers to strengthen its cross-channel consumer experience and enable staff to quickly provide information about products and stock availability, and place orders.

More brands should be following this lead. If a customer can’t find something in their size, they should be able to order it online with a touch of a button in the physical store. And given that our smartphone notifies us about everything else in our lives, why shouldn’t customers be able to receive a notification on their phone when the item comes back in stock? Creating an intuitive online customer experience isn’t just an option with this powerful but demanding market: it’s a requirement.

An opportunity brands can’t afford to miss

There are millions of modern, independent women with money in their pocket and the desire to spend it – but brands need to work harder to help them do so. Only by mastering the art of delivering intuitive and personalised online experiences will they be able to capitalise on the unprecedented opportunity that this highly influential market presents.

Erminia Blacken is head of strategy at Partners Andrews Aldridge

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