March 5, 2013, 4:14 PM

Price beats speed for online shoppers

A new survey finds little enthusiasm for same-day deliveries.

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Price matters more than speed for online shoppers, suggest survey results released today by The Boston Consulting Group.

The consulting firm says that 9% of U.S. online consumers said same-day delivery was “a top factor that would improve the online shopping experience.” That compared with 74% who said the same about free delivery, and 50% who cited lower prices, 35% free returns, 25% more secure web sites and 25% better views of products. (See below for other factors cited by survey respondents; they could select up to three responses).

The Boston Consulting Group based its findings on an online survey of 1,500 consumers conducted in November.

The findings suggest that despite the high-level attention lately given to same-day deliveries—eBay Inc., Shutl, the U.S Postal Service, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Amazon.com are among the e-commerce operators that have offered such programs, with Google Inc. reportedly gearing up its own program—the quick fulfillment method has limited prospects. “Same-day delivery will be a niche service in the near future,” says Rob Souza, a partner at BCG. “Retailers may choose to offer it to build customer loyalty, enhance brand awareness, or keep up with the competition. But it is unlikely to generate significant revenues for either retailers or carriers.”

That skepticism is echoed by Paula Rosenblum, an analyst at RSR Research LLC. “The only value I see in same-day shipping is when I’m on a business trip and realize I’ve forgotten something or broken something I need,” she says. “It’ll find its place, but it’s not a gold mine, as far as I can see.”

Same-day shipping could find fans among young, relatively rich and usually city-dwelling consumers no older than 34—a group the report calls “affluent millennials,” with household incomes of at least $150,000. 28% of that group says they would likely take advantage of same-day delivery rather than purchase inside stores, compared with 18% for all consumers. And those well-off shoppers would pay $8.20 for same-day shipments, compared with $7.50 for all consumers.

Those affluent, younger and mostly urban consumers, though, make up 2% of U.S. e-commerce market, The Boston Consulting Group says—though they tend to spend twice as much online as other consumers. “Economics dictate that retailers should offer same-day delivery for only a select number of products that are small and light and that carry high margins,” the report says. “Electronics, office supplies, and apparel are likely candidates.”

Tom Allason, CEO of Shutl, a London-based same-day delivery service that is expanding into North America, says that more consumers will embrace those quick shipments with time. “99% of shoppers have not yet experienced same-day delivery,” he says. “This will not last, however, with Amazon, Wal-Mart, eBay and now Google investing in same-day strategies.” (Google declined to confirm or deny a TechCrunch report this week that Google would offer same-day delivery for orders from retail chains.) 

Allason says consumers will come to expect ever quicker deliveries, which will help same-day shipping gain popularity. “Every year consumers say that they are satisfied and yet every year the delivery times they choose accelerate,” he says. “Let’s see how consumers answer the survey next year.”

Shutl says the typical delivery fee to shoppers for its service does not exceed $10, though retailers are free to set their own prices. Shutl’s cost to retailers varies based on the size of the delivered product and the distance between a store and the customer. “We’ve see 10% of shoppers choosing Shutl when they’re given the option, but that proportion almost doubles once for repeat Shutl users,” Allason says.

Jonathan Kapplow, chief marketing officer at ShopRunner—which offers two-day shipping to consumers for $79 annually, competing with Amazon Prime—says he’s not surprised at the Boston Consulting report. Same-day shipping, he says, “feels like a solution looking for a problem. We listen to our members a lot and we know they love getting their orders for free in two days. With that said, to date we have not once had a request to have same-day service.”

The Boston Consulting report goes on to say that 51% of all respondents would use same-day delivery for last-minute gifts, with 43% interested in the option if they had no time to go to stores, 30% interested when they simply don’t want to go to stores, 24% when they are excited about a new product and 10% when they want to try out a product seen on a web site.

That said, 53% of all respondents report using whatever delivery method is priced the lowest or is free.

The report also ranks the other e-commerce features that would encourage respondents to shop more online:

• Insurance against credit card fraud, 19%

• Product comparisons, 19%

• Chat with salesperson, 15%

• Faster delivery options, 15%

• Guaranteed delivery timing, 9%

• Flexibility for delivery timing and location, 7%

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