UPS Study: U.S. Consumers Shopping Across Borders Climbs To 47%

It’s an increasingly small world in e-Commerce: Almost half of U.S. online shoppers, and a majority of online shoppers outside the U.S., choose e-Tailers that are based outside their own countries. Around the globe, consumers are embracing mobile commerce, online marketplaces and diverse shipping options, although adoption rates and satisfaction vary (in some cases dramatically), according to the latest UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper report.

Based on a comScore survey of more than 18,000 consumers, the study captured the differing behaviors and preferences of online shoppers in the U.S., Asia, Europe, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

Except in the U.S., the majority of consumers have made cross-border online purchases — ranging from 83% of Canadians to 55% of Asians. But the U.S. is catching up. UPS data shows that 47% of U.S. online shoppers made cross-border purchases in 2017, up from 43% in 2016. Their top reasons for shopping internationally were lower prices (43%) and wanting something unique (36%).A better price was the number-one reason Brazilians (60%) and Europeans (40%) shopped beyond their borders. The top reason cited by Canadians (52%), Asians (49%) and Mexicans (47%) for shopping internationally was because the brands and products they sought were not available inside their geographic areas.


“Understanding shoppers and meeting their demands is crucial in this rapidly changing landscape,” said Alan Gershenhorn, Chief Commercial Officer for UPS in a statement. “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.”

Tablet And Smartphone Shopping Satisfaction Still Lags Desktops And Laptops

Among U.S. online shoppers, 85% said they were satisfied with online shopping in general. Desktop or laptop experiences are satisfying for 86% of U.S. respondents, but tablets (78%) and smartphones (73%) are less rewarding.

The comparatively low satisfaction rate for smartphone shoppers is a red flag for retailers, because UPS data shows more smartphone owners are making e-Commerce purchases through their devices.

In 2015, 41% of U.S. smartphone owners had shopped online using the devices; in 2018, that percentage was up to 48%. In fact, smartphone owners in all geographies increased their use of the devices for shopping. Smartphone shopping showed the most dramatic growth in Asia, increasing from 55% in 2015 to 77% in 2018, followed by Mexico, which increased from 39% in 2015 to 57% in 2018.

The subjects of this study were prequalified to be online shoppers, so it’s not surprising that they were less satisfied with physical stores than digital channels:

  • In the U.S., only 65% of respondents were happy with the in-store experience, and their satisfaction with mobile e-Commerce was not much higher, at 73%;
  • Brazil had the widest gap between consumer perceptions of online and physical store shopping: 88% were satisfied with online shopping but only 60% were content with physical stores;
  • The smallest gap was in Asia, where 57% expressed satisfaction with online shopping and 47% with physical stores; and
  • In Canada, 77% were satisfied with online shopping and just 59% were satisfied with physical stores.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of shoppers in all geographies used smartphones in physical stores for non-commerce activities, including looking up product reviews, reading product details and comparing prices at other online or physical stores.

Marketplaces Become Almost Ubiquitous

For online shoppers, the use of marketplaces is close to universal: 96% of U.S., European and Canadian consumers use them, along with even higher percentages of 98% in Asia and 99% in Mexico. According to Internet Retailer, marketplace sales now account for half of all online retail sales globally. The five largest marketplaces (by gross merchandise value) are located in two countries. China’s Alibaba operates the top two, Taobao and TMall. The U.S. is home to the third- and fourth-largest, Amazon and eBay. Fifth-place is also a Chinese company.

  • Better prices are the top reason online shoppers buy in marketplaces across all geographies, selected by 67% of Europeans, 65% of U.S. consumers, 64% of Asians, 63% of Mexicans and 61% of Canadians;
  • Free and discounted shipping was the number-two enticement in the U.S. (55%), Mexico (57%), Canada (51%) and Asia (42%);
  • Broader selection took third place in the U.S. and Canada at 37%, followed by Mexico (35%) and Asia (28%); and
  • In Europe, a broader selection (43%) was slightly more important than free or discounted shipping (41%).

Consumer Expectations Rise As Last-Mile Options Grow

E-Commerce shoppers have more options when it comes to how their orders will reach them, and consumer expectations are rising along with them.

Deliveries to homes and businesses generally arrive more quickly as more retailers offer free two-day shipping to stay competitive, and same-day delivery becomes available in more places. The ability to pick up online orders in physical stores, known as BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), or at alternate locations such as lockers, is also becoming more prevalent. Omnichannel retailers also are more likely to accept returns of online purchases in stores.

The UPS study delved into how consumers are adopting various shipping and delivery options:

  • Half of U.S. online shoppers have used ship-to-store in the past year, as have 44% of Brazilians and 42% of Mexicans; only 24% of European shoppers have used this option;
  • When picking up ship-to-store orders, 65% of Mexicans, 60% of Asians and 58% of Brazilians made additional purchases, but only 44% of U.S. and European shoppers did;
  • 44% of U.S. online shoppers have returned online purchases, with three-quarters shipping the items back to the retailer;
  • When U.S. consumers have the choice to return an item by shipping it back or bringing it to a physical store, 58% of respondents said they prefer the physical store;
  • The majority of shoppers in Canada (64%), Mexico (58%) and Brazil (51%) would prefer to return online purchases to stores, but most consumers in Asia (59%) and Europe (55%) would prefer to ship the products back to the retailer;
  • As more online retailers offer alternate pickup locations, 30% of U.S. consumers have used them and 37% indicated they would prefer alternate locations; and
  • More than half of consumers in Asia (59%), Brazil (55%) and Mexico (52%) prefer alternate delivery points, and they are used by 54%44% and 41%, respectively.

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