Just how prevalent is online shopping? If the holiday season’s e-commerce results haven’t been enough evidence, recent research [pdf] from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project offers more in the way of online shopping’s popularity. To wit, 79% of American adults have ever bought something online, including about 9 in 10 adults aged 18-49.
According to the survey of almost 5,000 adults, 15% shop online weekly, while another 28% do so a few times a month. While online shopping is most popular with younger adults, a majority (59%) of adults aged 65 and older report having shopped online.
There’s a much larger gap when it comes to mobile shopping. An impressive 77% of 18-29-year-olds surveyed said they’ve used their cellphones to buy something online, as have 64% of respondents aged 30-49. Yet there’s a fairly marked drop after that: only 36% of those aged 50-64 have made a purchase using their cellphone, and half as many adults aged 65 and up (17%) have done so.
Despite the variance between generations with respect to mobile shopping, its prevalence among youth suggests that it will continue to rise from its current status of one-fifth of e-commerce spending.
Also worth noting is that the survey on which Pew’s report is based was conducted in late 2015, roughly a year prior to the study’s release. So it’s conceivable – if not quite likely – that these figures have risen since then.
Meanwhile, the survey also measured the extent to which adults make purchases using social media links. As expected, this behavior is again more broadly seen among young adults, though it’s yet to reach the mainstream. Roughly one-quarter (24%) of 18-29-year-olds said they’ve ever bought something through a social media link. Not far behind (19%) are 30-49-year-olds, with fewer in the 50-64 (11%) and 65+ (5%) brackets having done so.
Those results tally with previous research. Data from comScore and UPS, for example, finds fewer than 1 in 4 online shoppers having purchased products via social media sites. A survey from SUMO Heavy, meanwhile, reported only 1 in 10 adults having used a social buy button.
Returning to the Pew study, frequent online shoppers show a strong preference for e-commerce over physical stores: among weekly online shoppers, almost twice as many would prefer to buy online (62%) than in-store (37%) given the choice. That’s in direct contrast to online shoppers overall (of any frequency), who were about twice as likely to prefer buying in-store (65%) than online (34%).
One thing seems clear, though: online shoppers like to compare prices. Regardless of online shopping frequency, a healthy majority (at least 60%) of shoppers said they typically compare prices if they need to make a purchase, rather than buy in-store or online without comparing prices to the other channel.
Reviews represent another important facet of online shopping – and adults are also gravitating to these in large numbers. Indeed, 82% report at least sometimes reading customer ratings or reviews that other people have posted online when buying something for the first time. That includes 40% who always or almost always do so, a figure which jumps to a high of 53% among 18-29-year-olds.
Primary research from MarketingCharts also supports reviews’ strong influence on purchase decisions. Our study found that almost one-quarter of adults have been influenced to make a purchase in the prior 6 months by consumer reviews posted online. This was the third-largest purchase influencer of the 18 we specified, behind only TV ads (#2) and recommendations from friends and family (#1).
There are some doubts about reviews’ accuracy, however. Among adults responding to Pew’s survey who read online ratings and reviews at least some of the time, 51% said they generally give an accurate picture, while 48% felt more that it’s hard to tell if they’re truthful and unbiased. Not too surprisingly, those who always or almost always read online reviews are more confident in their accuracy, with 65% feeling that the reviews generally provide them with an accurate picture.
Finally, reading reviews is (unsurprisingly) more common than posting them. Overall, about 1 in 10 always or almost always purport to posting reviews about products (10%), services (9%) and restaurants (8%), though more than one-third (including 48% for restaurants) never do so.
As for sharing experiences on social media? Some 39% say they’ve shared experiences or feelings about companies or products on social media, including 55% of 18-29-year-olds and half of 30-49-year-olds.
The full report from Pew is available here [pdf].