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Why Online Retailers Are Catering to Men

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New retailers are catering to a growing online demographic: men.

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Don't look now, but online retailers have a promising new customer segment: Dudes.

The digital landscape for men's shopping was close to nonexistent just a few years ago, but recently that's changed. According to NPD Group, online-only retailers accounted for $3 billion in men's apparel sales in 2009 -- up 1.9% from the year prior.

It was women who inspired online retail start-ups such as Gilt Groupe, which sells designer products for up to 70% off, but they can no longer ignore the growing demands from men to stroll the digital mall.

(See also, Up-and-Coming Retailers: Gilt Groupe)

"We noticed that we had a number of men becoming members and we put up a couple of sales to see if they would buy from the same sort of fashion world -- and they did," says Nate Richardson, who was brought on to the Gilt team to help conceive and launch a men-only site. "We felt like we weren't serving them well enough and that we needed to provide a place where men can buy things that are only for men and that are targeted and tailored for them."

That idea eventually became Gilt Man, which launched in October.

Gilt Man is a website that, like its parent site, offers high-end products for deep discounts. Every day at noon (Eastern Time) the site launches a new sale, which lasts 36 hours -- or until the featured inventory sells out.

Richardson, the general manager of Gilt Man, says online shopping is ideal for men because they don't enjoy the typical shopping experience, it's easy and discrete, and they're drawn to the competitive nature of the first-come, first-serve operation.

To fuel the competition, Gilt Man offers an iPhone (AAPL) application. "Men are much more inclined to shop off the iPhone than women… [it] plays into guys who are competitive to get what they want. Rather than run back to their desk or their computer, they're doing it from their meeting on the iPhone."

The men are about evenly split between Gen X and Gen Y, with an average age of 30, and generally they're professionals with occupations in fields such as law and finance.

It's not always easy drawing men to shop online. One tactic Gilt Groupe uses to attract new users is offering "low-risk products," such as jeans. This gets people to the site and when they see how easy it is, Richardson says, they start using it more.

From there, it's word of mouth.

The range of featured products on Gilt Man includes apparel, as well as high-end gadgets and sports memorabilia, which is particularly popular. Richardson says that in the future the site plans to include more sports gear ("from wet suits to golf clubs"), wine and spirits, and miscellaneous merchandise such as flasks, lighters, cuff links, and sports experiences that give shoppers the opportunity to meet players and watch events.

Jeffrey Grau, a senior analyst at eMarketer, says the most recent survey by the Pew Internet Project, released in April 2009, found that 78% of female Internet users have made online purchases and 71% of men have -- both numbers, he says, are continuing to grow.
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