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Tech retailers off-base to neglect the women


While men are generally considered to be more technology-discerning than women, research from the Consumer Electronics Association has Baltimore-area technology retailers and the technology industry in general giving women a second look.

Women, in fact, spend more dollars than men on technology products, the trade organization said last month, accounting for $55 billion of the $96 billion that went toward technology products last year.

Those results don't surprise Veronica Guyther of Laurel. Guyther has never been afraid to try new technology. In her household, Guyther is the one who decides when it is time to upgrade the television or buy a digital camera.

"My husband doesn't buy that kind of stuff as often as I do," she says. "He leaves it to me."

The tech-buying power of women is even greater when taking into account the impact of women's opinions even in households where men make the primary technology-purchasing decisions.

"For women in society 30 years ago, it wouldn't have been a big deal for a man to go out and buy a television and bring it home," says Anne-Taylor Griffith, a communications specialist for the Consumer Electronics Association. Today, "those kinds of decisions are rarely made by just one person."

Area retailers acknowledge that they have seen an increase in the number of women looking for technology merchandise.

"Probably over the last year or so I've noticed more women," says P.J. Tevin, a technology installation representative at a Circuit City store on Pulaski Highway.

Tevin also discounts the notion that the male customers understand technology more than the female customers. "Some women are knowledgeable, and some aren't, but it's the same with the gentlemen," he says.

Mike Cardwell, a manager at the CompUSA on Columbia Crossing Drive in Columbia, also has seen an increase in the number of women shopping in his store, and in his experience the technology comfort level of his female customers has increased substantially.

"Nowadays they are more knowledgeable whereas in the past they were not," he says.

Increased knowledge and comfort on the part of women are causing some retailers to adapt the way they approach women in stores since assuming that a woman is not comfortable making a technology purchase can cost stores valuable sales.

Guyther says she sometimes feels a little slighted at first by salespeople, which she attributes to her gender, but "once people see you know what you're talking about, they take you seriously," she says.

Not only do women spend more than men on technology, but the association's research found that different factors affect purchases by the sexes.

Women are less comfortable than men in playing with technology, so a product that requires a hefty learning curve or a gadget that one has to fiddle with is likely to be less of a hit with women than men.

Women also value portability and style more than men, meaning they'll be more likely to buy a fashionable tool that is easy to tote around.

When it comes to making technology decisions, women are more likely than men to seek consumer advice before making a purchase, meaning impulse buys are still primarily a man's domain, the association found.

That resonates with Guyther, who is in the process of shopping for a digital camera. Rather than merely heading to an electronics store to pick one up, "I go to Web sites and do research," she says.

Her quest for a camera has taken months, though in November she shopped for and purchased a digital camera as a gift.

The bottom line: Technology is no longer a field dominated by men, and if retailers are going to sell their products, they've got to make their marketing messages accessible to women.

"There's suddenly an increase in women being comfortable with technology and certainly purchasing it," says Griffith. "And I think it's speaking to a larger social phenomenon in terms of women in society."

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