Free Shipping Outweighs Brand Names

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E-consumers have labeled free shipping as one of the most important criteria impacting their online buying decisions. In fact, nearly two-thirds of consumers choose sites with free shipping over those with well-known brands, according to a new study by Cyber Dialogue Inc., a market research firm based in New York.

Ninety percent of online holiday shoppers said free shipping impacted the decision to purchase from a particular site.

"It's very bad [not to have free shipping]. It's a sticky kind of application you have to have on your site," said Qaalfa Dibeehi, senior analyst at Cyber Dialogue. "If I could buy from site A or site B and site A has free shipping, which site am I going to buy from? Free shipping impacts my decision."

One of the study's most surprising findings is that many consumers are choosing sites with free shipping over those with well-known brands. Sixty-three percent of shoppers prefer free shipping compared with those with well-known brands. This was more prevalent with women shoppers (69 percent) than men (58 percent).

At least one member of the e-commerce world that offers free shipping and brand-name products,, questions these findings.

"For consumers to choose free shipping more than brand names, it would have to depend on what product category we're talking about, at what price point," said Steve Antisdel, CEO of, Buchanan, MI.

"I'm suspicious of that particular statistic. I'm not sure it means much," said Antisdel. "If I'm going to buy a CD Walkman and I have a choice between Sony and [an unknown brand], I guarantee that I'll buy Sony every time."

The reason why consumers may have responded this way is the psychological barrier that additional shipping costs create for the consumer, according to Dibeehi.

"The whole point of e-commerce, in a sense, is to be convenient, so why not make it as convenient as possible? It's this seamless link between what I'm looking at and what I'll receive. There's no psychological barrier with free shipping."

Antisdel agrees. "The cost of the delivery add-on charge puts you at a direct disadvantage with having consumers drive to the mall," he said. "It tips the scales against getting fair value."

When it comes to deciding whether to return to a shopping site, free shipping is very important, according to 76 percent of online adults. Shipping was more important to women (80 percent) than men (73 percent).

Overall, consumers labeled the following features influential in their decision as to whether they will return to a site: Price discounts (95 percent), free shipping (94 percent), convenience of site (94 percent), security (94 percent), broad product selection (88 percent) and frequent shopper awards (71 percent).

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