December 27, 2002, 12:00 AM

Free-shipping offers are effective though often misleading, study says

More than a third of online purchases this year were influenced by free-shipping offers, but many shoppers lured by free-shipping offers paid for freight, said BizRate.com. It also noted that average freight charges rose nearly 15% this year.

More than a third, or 39%, of online purchases this year were influenced by free-shipping offers, even though many shoppers lured by the offers paid freight charges that were higher than last year’s, said BizRate.com. It noted that only 9.3% of orders actually had no shipping charge, and that the average shipping charge this holiday season reached $11.70, up 14.8% over last year’s average charge of $10.19.

"Free shipping offers brought consumers into the stores, but conditional free shipping offers meant many consumers actually paid for the freight," said Chuck Davis, president and CEO of BizRate.com.

BizRate also said that female shoppers accounted for the majority of online purchases for the third consecutive year, increasing their share of purchases to 60% from 56% last year. It noted that this represents a significant rise from 1998, when women accounted for only 39% of online sales.

It said consumers spent $7.92 billion online between Nov. 25 and Dec. 25, for an increase of 23% over the same period last year. But BizRate noted that this year’s results factored in six fewer shopping days than last year’s traditional Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping season. By adding six days (Nov. 19-24) into this year’s total, the 2002 shopping season shows an increase of 42.8% over last year, to $9.18 billion from $6.43 billion, BizRate said.

BizRate also said the peak online shopping season this year was Mon., Dec. 9, when sales hit $367 million, up 44.6% over $253.8 million recorded on last year’s busiest day, Mon., Dec. 10. BizRate said the second- and third-busiest online shopping days this year were Mon., Dec., 2, at $366.2 million, and Wed., Dec. 11, at $364.6 million.

It said online shoppers visited an average of four sties before choosing a merchant, and that they visited their chosen merchant’s site an average of 2.5 times before completing a transaction. It noted that 90% of online buyers did comparison shopping across multiple channels, including stores, catalogs and online, and that most online shoppers liked to begin their search at merchant sites or comparison-shopping sites.

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