Most business owners are aware that the internet is changing retail and the way people shop. However, this piece of information is useless without some more details. In 2016, the internet now includes dozens of related technologies which create a variety of ways for retailers to interact with their target consumers. A recently-released report from UPS gifts business owners and marketers some help and deciding what internet marketing tactics they should use.

According to the fifth annual UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, more and more shoppers are influenced by, or shopping with, online channels. The study is based on survey of 5,000 U.S. consumers and evaluates consumer shopping habits from pre-purchase to post-delivery. This is the first time in the study's five-year history that more than 50 percent (51 percent) of all purchases made by respondents are made online, up from 48 percent in 2015.

"Consumers are skilled at using technology to their advantage and thrive on gathering information when shopping," said Teresa Finley, Chief Marketing Officer at UPS, according to media releases on the study. "This year's UPS study revealed that 45% of online shoppers love the thrill of hunting for and finding great deals, and that physical stores continue to play an important role in that experience. The challenge is how to best engage with shoppers to fulfill their desires."

According to the study, free shipping is essential for online retailers. About three out of four (73%) shoppers surveyed said free shipping is 'the most important factor' to their satisfaction. Granted, this is a study from UPS, who has an incentive to promote their shipping options, but the importance of free shipping is something that has been noted before. Even if the percentages are a little inflated, the fact remains that many consumers consider free-shipping more important to their satisfaction than lower prices, item selection or other concerns.

This report highlights several ways that business owners can use new technology to increase sales. The point out that 38 percent of purchases are now cross-channel transactions, which means a combination of online and in-store shopping was used.

More than three in four (77 percent) of consumers use their smartphones. The devices can be used to research, shop, or make payments. The number of cross-channel transactions has increased by 2 percentage points since last year, so business owners should expect more, rather than less, smartphone-related shopping in the future.

Business owners with physical locations can also benefit from the UPS report. The study also found that online sales drive significant in-store traffic. For example, nearly three in five (58 percent) of shoppers say online access to store inventory is 'important'. Similarly, 29 percent of shoppers are using smartphones to find product reviews. While this can technically be used when at home, using smartphones for product reviews is most useful for consumers shopping at a location.

According to the survey, half of the shoppers who buy online, ship to a physical store. Ship to store isn't just a way to boost online sale. Of the people who use ship-to-store, 46 percent make additional purchases while picking up their items. A majority of shoppers (60%) also prefer to return items to a store, at which time 70 percent of them make additional purchases.

This study shows that there are a lot of ways for business owners to use online marketing tools to increase their sales, whether they're online on in-store retailers. The report has a lot of great details and is worth reading for yourself. Or, if you are more visually inclined, you can look at these infographics with some of the more interesting data points from the study.

For more research about integrating the online/in-store experience, read this article on another study on this topic.

Published on: Jun 27, 2016