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Consumers are more comfortable purchasing online if they know there are free returns,according to research [download page] by Radial of more than 2,000 consumers in North America. In fact, half of the shoppers surveyed in the US and Canada would avoid purchasing online if they are not offered free returns, the study found.

Along those lines, doubt about buying online due to returns is prevalent, and is more acute with some types of products more than others. Clothing and accessories is the top category for consumer apprehension, with 4 in 10 American consumers and one-half of Canadian consumers less likely to buy due to the anticipation of having to make a return.

A relatively equal amount of US (31%) and Canadian (33%) respondents listed high-dollar products like jewelry and luxury items as second only to clothing and accessories for products they were least likely to purchase online for fear of having to return the items. Where US and Canadian consumers do differ is with the product type they have the least amount of apprehension in buying online. Sporting goods and outdoor equipment are items US respondents seem more likely to buy online, with only 15% saying they were concerned about returns. At 21%, Canadians were least apprehensive about purchasing health and beauty products online.

Free Shipping is a Universal Expectation

Apprehension about returns is not the only factor consumers consider when purchasing online. A study from early 2018 found that 75% of US consumers report that the choice of free shopping influences their decision to buy online. That same study also revealed that 4.5 days was the maximum shipping time US consumer found acceptable with free shipping.

Findings from this newer research show that free shipping remains an expectation by the majority of online shoppers. Two-thirds (64%) of US consumers and slightly more than half (53%) of Canadian shoppers expect free shipping on all of their purchases online.

In what might be a source of small relief for online retail merchants, the report also found that consumers’ expectations on shipping times are loosening up on certain types of items. In the US, 30% of consumers believe that delivery time expectations should vary by the type of purchase, which is an increase from 17% the year before. In Canada, 33% of consumers were open to delivery time varying by the type of purchase, which is up 13 percentage point from the year before (20%).

The report is available for download here.

About the Data: The findings from Radial’s report Cracking the Code: What Online Shoppers Value Most are comprised of data from more than 2,000 consumers across the US and Canada.

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