Americans’ Most Popular Online and Mobile Purchases

July 21, 2014

Harris-Americans-Most-Popular-Online-Purchases-July2014Almost 7 in 10 US adults have made a clothing purchase online, making this the most common purchase of 10 identified categories, according to survey results from Harris Interactive. But while clothing is the most popular purchase overall, digital content – such as movies, music and e-books – tops the list for both smartphones and tablets. The study also finds that although Millennials (18-36) lead the way in smartphone and tablet purchases, Gen Xers (37-48) are the most likely to have made an online purchase in most categories.

Returning to the top purchase categories, the study finds that beyond clothing, the most commonly purchased categories (on any device) are:

  • Digital content (59%; 72% among Gen Xers);
  • Accessories such as handbags and shoes (54%; 60% among Gen Xers);
  • Personal electronics (49%; 57% among Gen Xers and Millennials); and
  • Household electronics (43%; 49% among Gen Xers).

Besides generational differences in online purchase behavior, significant gaps emerged when sorting by gender, with female respondents much more likely to have made clothing and accessories purchases and males more likely to have made digital content and electronics purchases.

Not surprisingly given recent research on the topic, survey respondents were considerably less likely to have made purchases via smartphones and tablets than via laptops and desktops. For example, despite being the leading category for smartphone purchases, only about 1 in 8 adults claimed to have ever purchased digital content using a smartphone, though that rate was more than twice as high (23%) among Millennials. Respondents were more likely to have made a digital content purchase using a tablet, with tablet purchases generally slightly more common than smartphone purchases.

Free shipping – again – was found to have a large influence on respondents’ shopping behavior: 81% said that free shipping would make them more likely to to make a purchase online as opposed to in person. Indeed, among those with at least one pet peeve when shopping online, shipping cost (66%) was by far the most-cited pet peeve, with far fewer (38%) complaining of getting something that looks nothing like it did online.

The study also reveals that in-store shopping remains popular: of the 10 categories identified, a majority said they would prefer to buy 8 at a brick-and-mortar store rather than online, with general food purchases having the highest rate of in-person purchase preference (78% preferring). On the other end of the spectrum, only 43% prefer to buy personal electronics in-store, though that was twice as many as would prefer to buy online (22%). (Most of the remaining respondents were agnostic.)

Those results are consistent with prior studies showing that Americans spend more time shopping offline than online and generally prefer shopping in stores to shopping online.

About the Data: The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 11 and 16, 2014 among 2,241 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

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