In the United Parcel Service’s latest “Pulse of the Online Shopper” study, consumers are increasingly turning to international retailers and online marketplaces to make purchases. Researchers also found a growing number of respondents using a mobile device to not only shop, but make a purchase.
In this year’s report, UPS found that 47 percent of “avid U.S. online shoppers bought items from international retailers,” which compares to 43 percent in 2016. Simultaneously, the number of online shoppers in the U.S. making purchases on marketplaces rose to 97 percent this year from 85 percent in last year’s report.
The results echo what payment firms such as Adyen and Tipalti have noted in recent months: cross-border transactions and sales with online marketplaces is robust.
Alan Gershenhorn, chief commercial officer at UPS said the “lines that separate domestic and international retailers continue to disappear. Retailers are now competing across the globe. In order to win, retailers can distinguish themselves by providing value through personalized experiences.”
The UPS study also showed a growing number of consumers using mobile devices to make a purchase. The study revealed that 48 percent of smartphone users made purchases on their devices, which compares to 44 percent in the 2016 survey. Retail native apps are also popular with consumers as 80 percent of respondents said they “use retailer apps, often preferring them to web sites because of faster speed (51 percent) and a better user experience (35 percent).”
Despite the growth of online shopping and online marketplaces, 59 percent of consumers said physical stores were important to “touch and feel” products while 54 percent said stores were key to solving “immediate problems.” Fifty-two percent of shoppers polled said stores were also important for receiving “superior customer service.”
Regarding ordering online and shipping to a store for pickup, 50 percent of those polled engage in that practice while 44 percent said they made additional purchases while in the store.
“Online shoppers are able to shop the world’s boutiques and bazaars with ease,” Gershenhorn said. “We’re witnessing a glimpse of the future, when retailers and their customers will be defined less by geographic location and more by how they connect with each other. The challenge is to best provide shoppers with the choice, control and convenience they desire.”
UPS also noted in its study that chat bots and virtual reality are some of the ways retailers and brands can “enhance” the customer experience. “While online shoppers prefer to talk with sales associates when shopping in stores, when online they prefer self-service options such as e-mail (55 percent) and live chat (42 percent). They are also comfortable using chat bots to get product information (42 percent), new product updates (39 percent) and completing their order and returning products (39 percent).”
Gershenhorn noted that technology continues to “drive change in the retail industry, but the physical store is still very important. Pure play online retailers are expanding with physical stores and multichannel retailers are using their local storefronts as e-commerce fulfillment centers. Online shoppers are indicating they want technology that enables rewarding, personalized experiences both online and in store.”
In a statement about the study, UPS said that its chairman and chief executive officer David Abney will be a keynote speaker at the Alibaba Group’s first U.S. summit, “Gateway ’17” in Detroit. The company said Abney will be “highlighting the opportunity for businesses to expand their sales to consumers in China and other export markets.”
In January, Alibaba’s executive chairman Jack Ma and president Michael Evans met with then-President Elect Trump to discuss how businesses in the U.S. could sell goods in China. Sean Spicer, who was incoming White House press secretary at the time, said the discussion was about how “Alibaba can create one million U.S. jobs by enabling one million U.S. small businesses to sell goods in the China and Asian marketplace.”
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