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Uncertainty about the economy is driving bargain hunting, as money-related issues dominate consumer priorities when shopping online. Price and free shipping stand out as clear favorites – with special promotions or coupons a distant third, according to a national survey conducted in late November.

The survey, conducted by Aegis Group’s Synovate for Guidance, asked 1,000 adults in Synovate’s eNation survey panel to select the most important factor when making a purchase online.

Some 43% of respondents said price is the most important factor, while 18% named free shipping:

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After price and free shipping the field evens out somewhat – with 8% choosing special promotions or coupons as the most important factor, 7% citing features (like recommendations and product reviews), 4% choosing speed/efficiency of checkout, and slightly more than 1% naming the opportunity for in-store pickup/returns.

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Asked to rank the second most important factor when making a purchase online, 41% of respondents named free shipping, 24% cited price, 14.5% chose special promotions or coupons, 10% favored features, 8% said speed/efficiency of checkout, and 3.5% said in-store pickup/returns.

“The Internet has opened a vast new world of low-cost purchase options for online buyers. While the online buying experience has improved markedly in recent years, at the end of the day – especially a day of financial uncertainty – price matters,” said Jason Meugniot, Guidance president and CEO.

“Sometimes improving site navigation or layout can help people more intuitively find the deals they’re looking for, while well-designed product presentation helps them see the true value of a product. The most important thing any retailer can do is know what matters most to its customers.”

Who’s Buying – Who’s Not

Nearly 19% of the total sample said they don’t make purchases online (22% of men, 16% of women) – a significant finding, considering that all of the participants in Synovate’s eNation survey panel are online.

Interestingly, across most demographic breakdowns of the responses for the “most important” factor, those who care about price the least were the most likely to say they don’t make purchases online.

In terms of price-consciousness:

  • More men (46%) than women (40%) put price at the top of the list.
  • Respondents in the two highest income brackets were significantly more likely to make price their No. 1 priority than those at the lower end of the scale:
    • 53% of those earning $50,000 to $75,000 said price was most important.
    • Just 37% of those earning less than $25,000 said so.
  • Similarly, employment status shapes perspectives – but not as one might expect:
    • Nearly half (48%) of those with full-time jobs cited price as most important.
    • Just one-third (33.5%) of retirees – presumably many on fixed incomes – ranked price first.
  • Concern about price correlates to age; generally, the younger the respondent, the more price matters. Price is most important to those 18-24 (53%) and relatively less important to those 65 and above (30%).
  • While 20% of those in the lowest income bracket (less than $25,000 annually) ranked free shipping most important, an even larger perentage of the most affluent group – those with incomes of more than $75,000 annually – did so as well (21%).
  • Similarly, 25% of retirees placed a premium on free shipping – significantly more than in the other employment brackets.

Other findings of note:

  • Those 25-34 are most likely to make purchases online (only 9% do not). Those over 65 are least likely to buy online, with 30.5% saying they don’t.
  • Respondents with the highest incomes (above $75,000) favored special promotions or coupons more than anyone else (more than 10% ranked it first – nearly double each of the two lowest income brackets).
  • Almost twice as many women as men place a premium on speed/efficiency of checkout (5% to 2.7%).

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