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Leslie Walker's .com Live
Discussion with Ellen Pack, Founder of Women.com
1 p.m. EDT: Thursday, April 27, 2000

Leslie Walker
Leslie Walker
CDnow's online music store has been repainted with beiges and other muted colors that appeal to women. At Neiman Marcus cybershop, a "personal shopper" will help women by recommending a stylish outfit from boots to hat. Nordstrom opened an online shoe store recently carrying 20 million pairs of shoes, primarily for women. And in beauty supplies alone, more than 50 online boutiques have opened, with such names as Gloss.com, Eve.com and Beauty Cafe.

If the burgeoning online marketplace looks different, there's a compelling reason: Women are starting to take over. The Internet, long a playground for male techies, is getting in touch with its feminine side. As a result, cybermerchants are learning there are some things women demand that men don't. Women want a different shopping experience online, just like they do on the ground.

Ellen Pack
Ellen Pack

And this realization is not just limited to shopping. The change in the Internet's audience has also triggered an explosion of new Web sites aimed at women. The two leading women's networks--iVillage.com and Women.com--and portals such as WomenConnect.com are being joined by a host of newcomers and hangers-on.

Ellen Pack is founder, senior vice president, and general manager of Women.com Networks, Inc. Pack formed Women.com in 1992, and has been instrumental in building and establishing the site as a leading network for women on the Web.

Tune in Thursday and join Ellen Pack to discuss how women use the Web and in what ways their online activities differ from men's.


Leslie Walker: Hello everyone. I hope you'll join today's dialogue about the Net's feminine side. We want to hear from you. A special welcome to our guest, Ellen Pack, who started an online hangout for women in 1992 and hasn't looked back. Women.com Networks Inc. sold stock to the public last fall, and is now a publicly traded Internet company. Let's go to the questions.

Leslie Walker: Let's start with the big trend. Women were slower to move online than men, but they've caught up, right? Can you tell us what percentage of the U.S. Internet audience today is female?

And more to the point, describe how are women using the Internet differently than men.

Ellen Pack: Today, women are 50% of the Internet. That’s up from less than 10% 8 years ago. Skeptics back then thought women would never come on the Internet in big numbers – but we proved them wrong! Women are using the Web as an integral part of their daily lives—to help them get things done. They are getting information for every aspect of their lives – their health, their families, their careers. Women tend to be more loyal to a fewer number of sites than their male counterparts. We say women are seekers on the Web whereas men are surfers.

Leslie Walker: You founded your online network in 1992, when the World Wide Web was still a little-known computer project that Tim Berners-Lee was developing in Switzerland. How has your mission evolved as the medium has grown and changed? What's different about your company today (besides the fact you have about 300 employees, versus just yourself when this all began!)

Ellen Pack: It’s interesting, a lot has changed and a lot is exactly the same. Our mission is much the same as when we first started…to connect women to valuable information and to each other. What has evolved is the medium, in very exciting ways, which has allowed us to do so much more with graphics, databases, communications tools. So the result is a more sophisticated product. Other differences about the company are that we now reach 6 million women every month. We have terrific partnerships with the leaders in women’s publishing, Hearst, Rodale and Harlequin. We are expanding globally and well, lots more.

Bethesda, Md.: There seems to be a new Internet beauty site opening online every day. Are women really doing much shopping for cosmetics and beauty supplies on the Web?

Ellen Pack: Yes, I think they are. But it's a little early to tell how much. Actually, there's been a lot of consolidation in the beauty category lately with some of these companies getting bought by bigger players.

Alexandria, VA: Why is it taking Old Navy so long to go on-line? Have you shopped bluefly.com yet? Great name brands and deep discount prices!

Ellen Pack: Yes, I love Bluefly.com. Do you work there ; ) Don't know about Old Navy but the Gap has a terrific site.

Washington DC: Your women's network site seems to be largely a collection of women's magazines online. What do you offer that's really new and different from traditional magazines?

Leslie Walker: Perhaps you should explain the partnership between Hearst and the women networks. Also talk a bit about how the Web is affecting print magazine subscriptions and what kinds of magazine content work well online.

Ellen Pack: We have partnerships with Hearst and Rodale and Harlequin --leading publishers of women's magazines and books. We build all of these web sites and do all of the content for these sites. In addition we produce thousands of pages of original editorial content every week. For example our news and politics coverage.

Leslie Walker: You've been offering a lot of programming about politics, like your straw presidential poll in March and the nationwide Gallop survey you commissioned of women. We well remember how crucial women were to the relection of Bill Clinton, with that 1996 race showing a huge gender gap. What kind of gender gap are you seeing this year? Also, can you describe some interactive things you've done in politics that have drawn participation from women.

Ellen Pack: Our initiative is called Majority 2000 because women have been the majority of voters in this country since 1964. They will decide who the next president is. We've done some great things - one called Earn My Vote an open forum where members tell the candidates how to earn her vote.

Washington, DC: I remember the old Women's Wire from way back. What would you say are the major differences between the old site and the new? Also, what are the most highly-trafficked areas?

Ellen Pack: Well the site is of course much larger, over 100,000 pages deep. We now have not only our own content but partner content too and we call it a network of branded sites. We have 19 different channels and many are popular - most trafficked are health, fashion, sex and romance, career.

Leslie Walker: You recently launched eHarlequin as part of your partnership with Harlequin Books. What's the strategy for delivering romance books and stories online--and how does that strategy differ from the ink-on-paper strategy for Harlequin?

Ellen Pack: The eHarlequin site is an extension of their franchise. It offers lots of romance content on a daily basis that of course the books don't offer. It's also the only place online you can buy all the books. We're also doing interactive serials where our visitors write the sequels to the romances.

Alexandria, VA: I was wondering how you enjoy shopping on eBay. I have met some of the nicest women in the country. They have babies, can't fit into their old size(s) anymore and their loss becomes my gain! Also, on line credit card bill paying is really catching on (e.g., PayPal and X.com). No more going to the bank and since the seller gets their money right away, they deliver my package quickly too! I am going to teach a group of women how to shop eBay the "smart way" (I'd like to anyway...I have soooo many little tricks to tell). Thanks!

Ellen Pack: I love eBay. I think it's the best of what the web has to offer. It's as much about community as it is about shopping.

Bethesda, Md.: Is there anything about how women use the Web that has surprised you?

Ellen Pack: I think the web was made for women. It's such a natural combination of productivity tool and community that it is tailor made to help improve their lives. Surprising are the continual innovative ways women use the web for gathering advice on personal issues and important life decisions. How much they have grown to depend on the people they have met online. Also one survey we did said 8% of our women married someone they met online. That one was a surprise!

Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Do you think that women use a women's site because it is a women's site, or do you think that women find content in it that they can't find elsewhere? Generally, I find that when women are treated as a target group, the subject matter is treated too superficially. In other words, if a more "neutral" game site (primarily focused around games) addressed the issues I'm concerned with as a woman, then I'd rather read that any day than a women's site that also covers games. When other sites start offering coverage from a more woman-focused angle, won't that trump your offerings?

Ellen Pack: Our network is huge and people come in all different doorways and use it in all different ways...not always from the homepage. Speaking of games for example, we have a thriving bingo site called bingoonline.com. Lots of the offerings we have are predominantly used by women but not exclusive to women.

Washington, DC: Why don't we see a bunch of Men's Networks.com like we do all these women-specific Internet networks?

Ellen Pack: Actually, there are a couple but they are not very popular. Women have a long history of reading women's magazines and consuming different media than men. The internet is no different. Women are huge information gatherers and like to collect lots of information before making decisions. They also really like to talk to other women - whether it's about their small businesses or their babies. Women.com gives them an opportunity to meet other like-minded women.

Leslie Walker: You said 8% of women you surveyed on your site married someone they met online. That's a tad amazing. Tell us more about what goes on in your romance channel, then.

Ellen Pack: Romance and relationships are of course something women love to talk about. I think this just shows how women have adopted the internet for all aspects of their lives - personal and professional. We have partnerships with dating sites that allow them to meet other people online. they can get advice from experts.

Leslie Walker: Women.com launched a fashion boutique in November to sell clothes to women online. "She Gets Dressed" you called it. A few months later, you scuttled your plans for direct sales of clothing. Why the change in strategy--did your retail advertisers complain that you were competing gainst them? And are you pulling back from all direct commerce, or just apparel sales?

Ellen Pack: We learned that the direct ecommerce space was a different business -- managing inventory and fulfillment. It was very expensive. We prefer to serve our more than 60 ecommerce partners and help them merchandise their products to our audience. In the case of Harlequin, we built the ecommerce platform but they manage the inventory and fulfillment. This allows both companies to focus on our core strengths.

Vienna, Va.: How you think the wireless Web might change women's lifestyles, if at all?

Ellen Pack: I think it will change in a couple ways. Wireless means convenience, more access points. I think the web will bleed into cell phones and other personal devices. So your services like women.com will send you information appropriate to where you are and what device you are using at the time. We deliver content through pagers and pilots today.

Bethesda, Md.: Can you tell us about you you use the Internet in your personal and professional life?

Ellen Pack: I am on the internet all day of course. I use it a lot for industry news and company updates. On a personal note, I'm in much closer contact with my family through email and photo sharing sites. Right now, I am using the web with my contractor to manage my house renovation project. He uploads photos every day.

Dupont Circle, DC: I enjoy the intelligent pregnancy health articles -- much better than ivillage's consumer-oriented stuff. Who's your source on pregnancy info? Is it the same for all women's health info?

Ellen Pack: We have our own staff writers. Tori Kropp is an RN who is a wonderful pregnancy expert. We use Prevention and Rodale a lot for our health and healthy living information. We have built some great resources and tools using their top rate research.

Alexandria, VA: What emerging trends do you see affecting the way the Internet will develop over the next few years? (Anything other than than the obvious one of mobile Internet access from a variety of devices other than the desktop computer?)

Ellen Pack: I think the next exciting frontier for the internet is the home. And you are going to see it come in through all kinds of devices but it's also going to change the types of information we see there; it will be much more relevant to your home life. Also there has been a lot of global internet expansion and I look forward to more international interchange amongst individuals.

Leslie Walker: Your company earned $14 million in revenue in the most recent quarter, but like most Internet companies, it still lost money. When does the company project it might turn the corner into profitability?

I ask because everyone is worried there isn't enough advertising to support many dot-coms. And Drkoop.com all but climbed into the electric chair this week when it confessed it was running out of money in a call with investors!

Ellen Pack: Analysts project profitability for Women.com on or before the end of next year. We are pleased with our quarterly growth and performance.

I agree there will be consolidation and falling out in our industry but advertising is a very strong business model for the top players. We consider ourselves one of these top players. Some of our advertisers have been with us for years and they continue to grow their programs with us.

Alexandria VA: What's the hardest part about your job?

Ellen Pack: Great question. Working in the internet space is very intense and you are connected and working almost 24 hours a day.

Alexandria, VA: What are some of your favorite Web sites (besides your own ,of course) and what do you like about them?

Ellen Pack: We've mentioned a couple, certainly Bluefly is one. I use Amazon almost weekly. I like finance sites like Motley Fool and Bloomberg.

Washington DC: What are your most popular, or heavily trafficked, channels on the Women's Network?

Leslie Walker: I'd like to hear which special features you've done that drew the most response. I remember you promoted an "undress your date" feature--some contest to see who women wanted to undress the most! What other participatory features have drawn the biggest response.

Ellen Pack: Our hugest so far was Bachelors of Silicon Valley where we nominated 10 bachelors of varying ages, backgrounds and credentials and allowed our members to vote on the winner. This attracted huge media attention and audience participation and the bachelors still get daily emails from people they have never met.

Leslie Walker: Is there anything about the way the Internet industry is developing that worries you?

Ellen Pack: I think we need to keep a close eye on privacy issues and how people manage their own identities and profiles online so these do not get abused.

Leslie Walker: Tell us more about the research you've done into how women use the Web. I remember one survey that grouped women into categories like "explorers" and "believers" and "movers." I'd like to hear more about your conclusions, especially on how women behave differently than men in cyberspace.

Ellen Pack: The study you are referring to was our psychographic profile study. So much attention gets paid to demographics like household income, but we think there are much more interesting patterns in psychographics which is more about people's belief systems and values. We found 6 different profiles of women who visited our site regularly.

As for men and women..of course we know more about women than men. But certainly we know that women are more likely to form lasting relationships online. They are more likely to seek advice online. They are more likely to do extensive product research before making a purchase online.

Washington DC: How many men use your site--what percentage of your visitors are male?

Ellen Pack: About 15% which is just under a million. I think they tend to come in from searching on a portal for specific information like health, family, etc.

Washington, D.C.: What makes women.com stand out from the very crowded field of Internet content sites? It doesn't seem there is enough advertising revenue to support 99 percent of the Web sites today.

Ellen Pack: We stand out because we have a large loyal following. In fact, one of the largest followings and we spend relatively little on marketing which means we have a strong base of repeat visitors.

Our branded partners also help us stand out. This is all exclusive content that you can't get anywhere else. The brands we work with are read by more than half the women in this country every single month.

Leslie Walker: We have 15 minutes left, folks. Keep your questions rolling in!

Leslie Walker: You recently bought a company called ezSharing.com. I gather it's to add tools like calendars, address books and the like. All the big Web portals (yahoo, lycos, aol) have these tools. Does this mean you are striving to be more of a portal than a community site?

Ellen Pack: Actually, we bought this company because of community. It has great group capabilities like private and public clubs, photo sharing and the like. So we think it will enhance our community greatly. Also, in terms of calendaring, we will focus on areas where our content helps bring even more value, like pregnancy calendars that help you track the various stages of development.

Washington DC: I always heard that women control 80 percent of the purchasing decisions in American households. Do you have research supporting that, and what exactly do people mean by "control"? They don't exactly wield the big credit-card power, do they?

Ellen Pack: In fact they do. Our research shows that she is the primary decision maker on most of the purchases made -- not just consumer household purchases but cars and more and more financial instruments.

Washington DC: What kind of impact do you think the stock market correction is having or will soon on the Internet industry? Your own stock is way down off its offering price--is this affecting morale in the company?

Ellen Pack: Everyone at our company is committed to our vision of building the best network for women. Rome wasn't built in a day. We've been at this for 8 years already and plan to continue to execute on our vision and our growth. The stock market correction is of course something we are all well aware of but it really doesn't effect the day to day.

Leslie Walker: Are you opening many offices in other countries, and if you are, are you doing it solo or with local partners? How is the strategy different abroad than in the US?

Ellen Pack: We have already pursued licensing agreements in Japan and Latin America. We are pursuing joint ventures in additional foreign markets and you should watch soon for our announcements. We are on the leading edge of international expansion and very excited about making women.com a global presence.

Leslie Walker: What percentage of your users are outside the United States?

Ellen Pack: Approximately 15% and they are mostly from english speaking countries - Canada, UK, Australia, and there's also activity from the Netherlands.

Washington DC: Do you have any insight into why women were slower than men to adapt to the net? Also, why are the vast majority of technology startups run and staffed (at the executive levels) almost exclusively by men?

Ellen Pack: Loaded. First, back in the early 90s there was not much out there for women. So it was not a surprise to me that there were not women online. Women are very guarded with their time (a most precious commodity). Now that there is so much here for them, they have come in droves.

As for the other question, technology continues to be a male dominated area. Though I think we have made a few terrific strides lately -- HP, EBay to name a few.

Leslie Walker: You mentioned the public concern about privacy, which is obviously growing. What kind of information do you collect about how your users use your site, and how much do you share with the advertisers who buy ads for the network?

Ellen Pack: We have a very clear privacy policy posted on our network and take these issues very seriously. We collect basic information about our visitors on a voluntary basis and we do use information about patterns to better target ads but we don't sell the information back to our advertisers we only use it to make their campaigns reach the right audience. We do it in a aggregate way but not at the individual level.

Leslie Walker: That's all the time we have this week. Thanks to Ellen Pack and to everyone who submitted questions. I will be back again in two weeks. See you then.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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