Handbag.com cashes in on feminisation of Web

handbag.comHandbag.com, the online women’s website, is relaunching with a streamlined editorial offering and new advertising formats in a move it says is taking the concept of the women’s glossy online (MW last week).

The site, owned by National Magazine Company’s interactive division Hearst Digital, is not alone in revamping its Web offering to appeal to women online. Last month Ofcom published a report that outlined what has been dubbed “the feminisation of the Net”. It showed that women aged between 25 and 49 in the UK, Europe’s largest Web market, now spend more time online than men.

Ofcom said this trend was partly the result of more sites having content relevant to women. And the trend is not restricted to young singles or career women. A report from the European Internet Advertising Association showed that 62% of mothers regularly access the Net and 34% are watching less TV than ever before.

Faced with the fact the Net is no longer dominated by young men, content owners and advertisers are having to adapt. Handbag.com publisher Alicen Stenner says changes are a reaction to user demand and will help advertisers better target its audience. “We know the three core interests are fashion, beauty and celebrity; the new site will focus on these with periodic supplements on issues such as health and career,” she adds. “Pages are cleaner, we have reduced the volume of advertising and removed the grid, meaning advertisers can take an entire page or brand a page – essentially equivalent to a facing page in a glossy.” 

Jackie Newcombe, managing director of IPC Southbank, which publishes Marie Claire, adds: “The Web is a huge opportunity for media owners, especially magazine publishers. We have both the knowledge and understanding of female audiences and the content to create really engaging sites for women.

Trusted brands
“For advertisers it means they can turn to trusted brands to reach women online, without simply chasing eyeballs as perhaps was previously the case. When a huge brand like Marie Claire goes online advertisers sit up and take notice. Marie Claire has beaten all our targets.” 

Online versions of magazines from Cosmopolitan to InStyle are proving popular, while online-only portals such as OSoYou.com have flourished. Yet these sites are only part of the overall picture, according to behavioural targeting company Tacoda. Spokesman Tony Evans says: “Sites such as iVillage and Handbag have only around 3% of the online market. Advertisers should not restrict themselves to these sites.” 

Broad demographics
Evans believes brands need to look beyond the broad demographics and better target women based on location and what their interests are. “They must consider other places where they will be – and it’s not restricted to children’s sites and parenting portals. Finance, sports, price comparison sites – women are everywhere on the Web,” he adds. “They need to identify specific interest groups from what they are doing online to make sure their ads are effectively targeted.” 

Stenner agrees that social networking and user-generated content (UGC) are important routes to communicate and engage with users. MyHandbag is to be the social networking part of Handbag.com and will allow users to upload content and interact with each other. Stenner adds that while audience sizes of portals such as Handbag.com are relatively small, the relevance of content means a better-quality and more receptive audience for advertisers. She agrees with IPC’s Newcombe that publishing houses are well placed to address women’s needs.

Evans may have concerns that female-oriented sites have too small an audience, but content owners and advertisers appear unconcerned. Handbag.com’s online alternative to the glossy is just one of a plethora of portals taking women’s interest in fashion and beauty to the next level. Just this week, Eve magazine announced a new UGC platform, the Boutique Directory, where users can upload links to favourite retailers.

It seems that women’s appetite for fashion and beauty appears far from sated – especially online.

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