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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 January, 2004, 15:58 GMT
Women put off by gadget shopping

By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor in Las Vegas

CES in Las Vegas
Visitors to CES heard from experts in the industry
A new generation of tech-savvy women is emerging but they are still being treated like idiots when it comes to selling gadgets, say experts.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, delegates heard that women needed to be treated with respect by the companies selling products like digital cameras or MP3 players.

The technology industry is anxious to tap into the female consumer, as women hold the purse strings for more than $50 billion in gadget spending in the US.

Women are a huge and under-served market in the consumer electronics industry, said Laura Heller, senior editor of the trade magazine DSN Retailing Today.

"There is so much we don't know about this demographic. How they shop for technology, how they feel about technology and more importantly how technology makes them feel."

'No respect'

Research commissioned by the CES organisers looked at how women were treated when they went shopping for gadgets.

It found that most of all, women were irritated by unhelpful and pushy salespersons.

Many simply felt dumb, even though they considered themselves smart women.

"Our female customers feel a big lack of r-e-s-p-e-c-t," admitted Dave Williams, Vice President of Research & Analysis at the electronics chain Best Buy.

"They are ignored, confused by pushy salesman. If she's disrespected, it all goes down the toilet."

The study showed that almost half of women go shopping with a man as they believed they were better treated if they had a male companion.

On their own, many women said they felt they were treated by salespersons as if they were thick, especially the younger ones.

This younger demographic, between 18 and 24, who grow up with technology and want these products, feel doubly discriminated, said Ms Heller.

They feel discriminated for their gender and their age.

Special training

It's been in this industry's DNA for years, it is not going to change overnight
Dave Williams, Best Buy
Sony is one of the companies that has been looking at different ways of selling its products to women, without falling into the trap of treating them as stupid.

Younger women who are tech savvy are not looking for someone to dumb down the technology for them, said Denise Yohn, marketing expert at Sony Electronics.

Younger women do want to know about all the features.

From an operational standpoint, salespersons need some special training on how to interact with women.

They have to be available for questions but not hover over the women, she said.

Slow to change

The risk for the industry is losing out on millions of dollars of sales, just because it does not how to deal with the female consumer.

"The consumer electronics industry is the same place where the automotive industry was 20 years ago in the way it speaks to women," said Katherine Rizzuto, publisher of Marie Claire Magazine.

She spoke of how her 10-year-old daughter was at home with new technology, reflecting that she was the consumer of tomorrow.

"It is time to start doing something about this now as you are talking about a whole new generation," said Ms Rizzuto.

The study of women consumers showed that what they wanted from their shopping experience was a big choice of goods, helpful salesperson and uncluttered stores.

But changing the way the big electronics chains do business could take some time.

"It's been in this industry's DNA for years," said Best Buy's Mr Williams, "it is not going to change overnight."

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