Shoppers swiftly and smartly navigate the holidays.

E-commerce sales are soaring with Internet Retailer projecting online sales rose roughly 17% in November and December. And, as e-commerce matures and shoppers grow more experienced at navigating retailers’ websites and apps, the onus is on online retailers to deliver a satisfying experience.

Lauren Freedman, Senior Consumer Insights Analyst, Internet Retailer

Online retailers are finding more seasoned online shoppers on their sites who know their way around a website and are ready to transact on their desktop and increasingly do more business on their mobile devices, according to a new Internet Retailer survey that examines consumers’ online shopping and returns behaviors.

Internet Retailer, in conjunction with Toluna, conducted an online survey of 1,006 during the last week of December to examine e-commerce shopping behaviors—from browsing to returns—during this all-important shopping period.

The survey found that, overall, consumers were satisfied with their experience shopping online and handling returns over the holiday season. Digging into the details, we also found some additional ways in which shopper behaviors are evolving.


Shoppers are increasingly aggressive in their online purchase behaviors

Having honed their online shopping skills, consumers spent more of their time and budget online over holidays, with many foregoing the physical channel altogether. While it is certainly notable that 84% of online shoppers made an online purchase over the holidays, it is the 22% of online shoppers who made more than 10 online purchases over the holidays that should capture our attention.

Beyond those raw numbers, holiday shoppers doled out high satisfaction scores for online retailers this holiday season. We continue to see these high performance numbers and thus expect no slowdown in shopping volume in the coming year. On average, shoppers gave retailers a score of 8.46 on a flawless 10-point scale and nearly six out of 10 shoppers scored retailers a nine or higher.


Most shoppers faced few issues over the holiday season. In fact, almost one in five reported encountering no issues at all. A closer look at the findings shows a vigilance among buyers who have a “need to know” mentality and enjoy the option to track their package location at any given moment. Six in ten online shoppers tracked their orders and one in five online shoppers used a mobile app for order tracking purposes. This has become a growing option with apps now standard fare among shipping companies and most large retailers.

Shoppers are conditioned to ask and then ask again for tracking information. In some instances, consumers learn the behavior patterns of their UPS drivers, anticipating their every move and, increasingly some are learning how to alter their deliveries to accommodate their schedules.

Though limited in nature, roughly 15% of consumers experienced a late delivery or lack of communication regarding orders. Of course, it is nearly impossible to eliminate all issues, which is why it is more important that retailers are proactive in their communications to avoid aggravating their customers.


Every retailer should have the goal to deliver flawless customer service, which includes honoring delivery promises. However, there is still some room for retailers to improve. Regardless of the current performance, disappointments still persist as shoppers have come to expect the quick turnarounds promised by the best of retailers.

Speaking of disappointments, I experienced one with an order from a specialty retailer in December. Unfortunately, the shorts I ordered ten days in advance of our family vacation arrived one day after we left for our holiday, despite the merchant’s promise to meet a particular delivery window. The retailer compensated me with a coupon for the inconvenience, but I might not take a chance with them again next holiday when timing is tight, as it always seems to be at that time of year.

Return dynamics reap benefits for retailers  

Returns are a fact of life in retail but it’s instructive to see that two out of three online shoppers didn’t make any returns. For the 32% of online shoppers who did make a return, the majority returned less than four items and my educated guess is that most completed just one or two.

Transparency of information and strong product visualization can keep rates at lower levels. Ensuring that shoppers can quickly find the information they need and that policies are in line with both customer expectations and industry standards is what matters most.


Returns are convenience-driven and distributed among online, offline and Amazon-related alternatives. Shoppers make choices and will take advantage of both online and offline options so retailers must be accommodating.

As the results revealed, more than half of shoppers shipped orders back to online retailers, while almost one in two returned to a retail store. One in three online shoppers use Amazon to make returns via their stores or affiliated retailers. Not surprisingly, Amazon plays an increasingly important role as their volume continues to escalate. My own experience at their stores have generally been positive. I was surprised to learn that a non-Amazon store option was not always available for some of the products I purchased over the holidays, particularly as I had planned a Kohl’s trip where I hoped to capitalize on that visit. That may have been a factor of price point, but limiting options can be a source of irritation with one’s customer base.


A large percentage of consumers were satisfied with the returns process over the holidays. One in three shoppers graded their post-holiday experiences a 10 and generated a 7.93 average among returners. The majority of online shoppers rate their returns experience a 9 or higher while 77% rate their returns experiences a seven or higher.

Despite the annoyance surrounding product returns, shoppers were comfortable and highly satisfied with their holiday returns experiences. Shoppers over time have found the best options for their busy lifestyles. They will deviate in the interest of convenience. Shoppers expect an efficient experience under every scenario. When unfulfilled, they may seek an alternative retailer, so retailers must try and attain high standards under all circumstances.

2019 shopper speaks recommendations:

  1. Be vigilant in delivering a user experience that resonates with your customer base.
  2. Communicate with shoppers throughout the delivery process.
  3. Offer omnichannel option for both buying and returns.
  4. Ensure imagery is robust to see product in its best light.
  5. Spell out return policies on site and via all communication to avoid shopper surprises.
  6. Monitor satisfaction rates year-round.