July 24, 2006, 12:00 AM

It’s not the heat, it’s the gas that`s driving online shoppers

27% of U.S. adults are more likely to shop from home—online, catalog or TV—this summer because of busy schedules and 25% because of rising gas prices, Harris Interactive reports.

Busy summer schedules and rising fuel prices are having an impact on consumer behavior, keeping more at home this season, according to results from a new Harris Interactive survey. Home shopping is on the rise this summer: 27% of U.S. adults are more likely to shop from home-online, catalog or TV-because of busy schedules and 25% because of rising gas prices, the poll finds.

When it comes to choosing merchants, an overwhelming 96% of respondents believe the ability to return merchandise from home is a critical factor when deciding where to buy. If a return process requires customers to travel to a mail center or drop box, only 13% of adults who shop from home would be “very likely” to shop with a retailer again. Given the option to return purchases directly from home with a pre-paid label, these adults are more than four times as likely to shop with a retailer again as those who are restricted to a return process that requires travel, concludes the survey, commissioned by Newgistics Inc., a vendor of returns management systems and services.

According to the survey, consumers who are curtailing spending on non-essential items due to rising fuel prices are making trade-offs that put the home at the center of summer activities. 85% are cooking at home instead of going out, 55% are renting movies instead of going to theaters, and 25% are shopping from home instead of shopping at stores, Harris Interactive says.

The survey contends retailers seeking to reach the growing number of home shoppers should focus on convenience through the entire purchasing process. Those who shop from home cite numerous benefits, including: convenience (86%), the ability to shop any time of day or night (88%), cost savings (63%), and fewer concerns about privacy (59%). The same survey respondents, though, identify barriers that hinder home shopping, including: the inability to touch or try on merchandise (79%) and costs associated with shipping fees (71%).

Harris Interactive conducted the telephone survey between July 7 and July 10, 2006, among a nationwide cross section of 1,122 U.S. adults ages 18 and over. Figures for age, sex, race and region were weighted where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. The survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 3%.

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