Americans Still See Virtue in the In-Person Shopping Experience

Press release from the issuing company

Friday, August 29th, 2014

There aren't that many items left that we can't order online these days. From low cost knick-knacks to high end automobiles, it's tough to imagine a category that hasn't seen at least some online retail penetration in the past few years. And Americans have certainly taken the opportunities offered, with majorities saying they've purchased clothing (69%), digital content (59%), and accessories such as handbags and shoes (54%) online, while half (49%) have purchased personal electronics such as digital music players or tablets in this fashion.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,241 U.S. adults surveyed online between June 11 and 16, 2014.  (To see the full results including data tables, click here)

Most of these purchases are taking place on traditional computer screens, though smartphones and tablets are making some clear inroads:

  • Among smartphone owners, two in ten have purchased digital content via such devices (20%) while nearly one in ten have used a smartphone to purchase clothing (9%), accessories (8%), and personal electronics (9%).
  • Over a third of tablet owners have used such a device to purchase digital content (36%), while roughly two in ten have used a tablet to purchase clothing (22%) and accessories (19%). Nearly two in ten have used a tablet to purchase personal electronics (16%), while roughly one in ten say the same of cosmetics and personal grooming products (12%) and household electronics (9%).

Predictably, younger generations are more likely to have made purchases online in most of the product categories tested; the exception to this is prescription medications, with four in ten Matures (40%) saying they have purchased these online vs. roughly a fourth of most Baby Boomers (27%) and Gen Xers (26%) and fewer than two in ten Millennials (18%).

Women are more likely to have purchased clothing (75% vs. 63%), accessories (60% vs. 47%) and cosmetics/grooming products (41% vs. 28%) online, while men are more likely to have purchased digital content (62% vs. 56%), personal electronics (55% vs. 43%) and household electronics (49% vs. 37%) online.

Favoring face-to-face

However, while online shopping is being utilized by many Americans, there is still a clear preference for shopping in-person across most of the product categories tested. Nearly eight in ten U.S. adults indicated an in-person preference for general food purchases such as groceries (78%), roughly two-thirds for over the counter medications (67%) and clothing (65%) and over half for prescription medications (58%), cosmetics/grooming products (57%), specialty food and beverages (57%), household electronics (55%) and accessories (52%). Even personal electronics, the category showing the strongest online shopping preference, shows a roughly 2:1 ratio of Americans expressing an in-person (43%) vs. online (22%) shopping preference.

Shipping issues

Shipping costs are clearly a hot-button online shopping issue. When U.S. adults were asked how each of a series of purchase terms would impact their likelihood to make a purchase online (as opposed to in person), strong majorities say free shipping (81%) and free postage for sending in returns/exchanges (70%) would make them more likely to make such purchases online.

A small majority (55%) say the same of the opportunity to make returns/exchanges at a brick and mortar store, though "opportunity" is a key word here. Roughly half (49%) say that returns only being free if they are brought in-person to a brick and mortar store that is not available locally would make them less likely to make a purchase online.

Shipping costs also emerge as a sore subject when discussing online shopping pet peeves. Of those Americans with at least one cyber bone to pick with online shopping, two-thirds (66%) identify shipping costs as among the foremost of such annoyances. In addition:

  • Nearly four in ten (38%) point to getting something that looks nothing like it did online.
  • Over one in ten say the same of getting put onto a retailer's mailing list after making a purchase (16%), having to buy two sizes of an item because they're not sure which will fit (15%) and the fact that it can take a long time for returns/exchanges to process (14%).

Millennials are more likely than their elders to point to having to buy two sizes due to not knowing what will fit (21% vs. 14% Gen Xers, 13% Baby Boomers and 9% Matures), while Matures are more likely than their younger counterparts to sweat the possibility of ending up on a retailer's mailing list (10%, 14% and 17% vs. 27%, respectively).

Looking at gender gaps, women are more likely to point to shipping costs (71% vs. 60%), items looking nothing like they did online (41% vs. 34%) and having to double up on sizes purchased (19% vs. 11%), while men appear to be more likely to suffer from mailing list anxiety (23% vs. 9%).

The cost of "can't wait"

While most Americans show resistance to paying for shipping, not all shipping is created equal and over two in ten (22%) say they would be willing to pay more for either overnight or same day delivery, with 15% specifically saying they'd pony up for overnight service and 14% for same-day.

  • Among those who would pay extra for same day delivery, six in ten (60%) would pay $10 or more and the average up-charge they could live with is $13.90.
  • Looking at overnight shipping, among those willing to pay for this at all 45% would pay $10 or more and willing shoppers would pay up to $11.00 on average.