By Athena Koutsonikolas

With the rapid growth of ecommerce and the explosion in mobile commerce, it's fair to say the retail landscape has dramatically changed. Released in June 2013, Roy Morgan’s State of the Nation report shows the number of Australians who shop online has tipped over the 50 per cent mark for the first time this year. The research, which examines the social trends of 50,000 consumers over the past decade, also revealed a 12 per cent growth in the online retail sector in the past year alone.

This change in focus and knowledge of how consumers shop has called on retailers to reassess traditional methods of appealing to a purchaser. Its clear online shopping is becoming increasingly mainstream in the Australian market. As a result, retailers are now making ecommerce an investment priority.

Traditionally ecommerce was very male-oriented and the selection of products available reflected this, including items such as computers, software, music and consumer electronics. With the rapid increase in internet use and the rise of social media, retailers saw a change and the opportunity to expand and evolve online, offering consumers a world in which to purchase everyday goods. This revolution brought about a change in who was purchasing these goods online. Males were no longer the predominant users and women found themselves at the forefront of the change.

Women are now the key purchasers for household goods sold online and influence more than three-quarters of all household expenditures. Online retailers are now realising the future of ecommerce will continue to be heavily influenced by women, and expectations as to what an online shopper will be, and will do, are changing. Retailers now face the choice of adapting or being left behind.

The rise can be partially attributed to the wider availability of products and shopping experiences that women want. Initially, women were concerned about the inability to physically try on an item, but this hesitance appears to have been overcome with the introduction of free returns and extended return timeframes. Consequently, online fashion has seen the biggest growth in the past year. Other areas that have seen tremendous growth are health and beauty, food and household products. Women now drive the majority of purchases on many sites such as Adore Beauty, e.l.f Cosmetics, Lululemon, Boden and Supre.

So why have women taken to online shopping? Well, there is no denying that the majority of females like to shop. According to evolutionary psychologist Daniel Kruger our love of shopping long predates brands and our desire to purchase them. Women love shopping because it resembles ancient food gathering instincts. Women used to look for places where fruits and vegetables grew. They had to identify distinct colors and shapes to find ripe and edible fruits and vegetables. They had to feel, touch and taste the food that they gathered and while only a theory, this does go a long way to explaining why women need different shopping experiences to men.

Users are exploring brands and sharing purchases and feedback constantly through online communities such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Recent research by BigCommerce found that 81 per cent of social media users say posts from their friends directly influence their purchasing decision. With 71 per cent of daily active users on Facebook female, this indirect advertising is driving more and more women to shop online every day.

Never before has there been a place such as Facebook where consumers are so eager to share their likes, dislikes, and purchasing behaviour. All this ‘big data’ has given power to marketers who are able to understand their consumer better than ever before. By collecting and analysing data, retailers can strengthen their relationships with the customer by delivering customer preferences in real time, which can increase sales and encourage repeat business.

What online retailers need to ensure is their sites are structured to appeal to the majority of users. While it’s essential to cater for both women and men, it is also important for digital marketers to ensure they are thinking of women when designing their sites and merchandising, even if women aren't their primary target.

An effective search box that gives extremely relevant results can lead users right to the product they are looking for. Alternatively, having a navigation that is full of useful refinements allows for a browsing experience that can easily narrow down product preferences, but still allow for a visual and highly-engaging shopping experience. By providing multiple avenues to access products, online retailers can create a shopping experience to cater for everyone.

As a rule, men tend to prefer shorter shopping experiences. They achieve that by searching for exactly what they are looking for and then buying the product. Research shows that men are more likely to intensely research the product page and read all the product details, while women will often quickly scan the product page, but continue on to browse other products. Women also tend to search by brand instead of searching by product.

It is said that while married men can be the decision makers for some products categories in the household such as technology, it is women who are the ‘permission givers’. Men might have lead the online shopping charge, but it’s us ladies that are now running things; retailers take note.

Athena Koutsonikolas is APAC marketing manager of SLI Systems.