Online shoppers worldwide are buying more from international retailers and from "marketplaces"—third-party sites where multiple merchants sell their products—and are increasingly relying on digital devices and seeking different delivery options, according to a study of consumer buying habits in six international markets commissioned by UPS Inc.
In Mexico, 99 percent of shoppers surveyed said they had made a marketplace purchase, compared with 98 percent in Asia and 96 percent in Europe and Canada. The top reasons for using marketplaces are better prices and free or discounted shipping, according to the "UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper" study.
The study also showed an increase in global competition for customers, with a significant number of online shoppers in Canada, Brazil, and Mexico making purchases from international retailers. About 47 percent of U.S. shoppers made international purchases, according to the survey. Consumers shopped internationally primarily for better prices and access to specific or unique products. In Asia, where mobile purchases are most common, the percentage of smartphone users who made a mobile purchase rose to 77 percent, from 55 percent in 2015. In Europe, where smartphone purchases are least common, the percentage still rose, to 43 percent from 28 percent, over the same period.
Most global shoppers use mobile devices to search for products, compare prices, locate stores and track deliveries—all the more reason retailers should think "mobile first." At least 70 percent of respondents in all regions used smartphones to compare prices while they were in stores, according to the survey.
Shoppers expect quick fulfillment of online orders and speedy delivery across all regions, but expectations differ. For example, consumers in Asia, Mexico, and Brazil expect to place orders later in the day and still be eligible for same-day and next-day deliveries.
Consumers across all the surveyed regions arrange for returns online. Shoppers in the U.S. are the most likely to return an online purchase, while shoppers in Mexico are the least likely. When both return options are available, shoppers in Asia and Europe prefer to ship online purchases back to retailers, contrasting with consumers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, who prefer to return online orders to a physical store. Among those who prefer to ship returns to a physical store, ease and free shipping on returns are the leading reasons for this preference across all regions.
Consumers are more open to some new technologies in the retail landscape, but are skeptical of others, the survey found. For example, more than half of U.S. and Canadian consumers would rather interact with people in a store instead of with a robot helper. However, more respondents prefer self-service options online.
The comfort level with using chatbots for tasks like getting product information is highest in the U.S., at 65 percent, and lowest in Mexico, at 45 percent.
"Understanding shoppers and meeting their demands is crucial in this rapidly changing landscape," said Alan Gershenhorn, chief commercial officer for Atlanta-based UPS. "To stand out, smart companies must recognize that with competition now coming from around the world, consumers want different ways to make purchases, more convenient ways to receive them, and innovative experiences from start to finish."
The 2018 study was based on a survey of more than 18,000 online consumers worldwide and was conducted during the first three quarters of last year.
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