Consumer Shopping Survey: Part III

In this, the final installment of our three-part series on Catalog Age’s Consumer Shopping Survey, we look at the reasons that shoppers buy from catalogs and the Web. And we also look at the reasons nonshoppers shun those channels. (In the August issue, we explored the demographics of catalog and Web shoppers and how much they spent. In the October issue, we reviewed how satisfied they’ve been with their direct shopping experiences.)

Why they buy

As was the case in our first Consumer Shopping Survey, conducted in December 1998, convenience was the number-one reason shoppers bought by mail. Of the 49.6% of survey respondents who’d bought from catalogs last year, 62.2% said convenience was the reason, as had 60.0% of the catalog shoppers surveyed two years earlier.

Of those respondents who had made at least seven catalog purchases last year, a whopping 82.4% said convenience was their key driver. (Along similar lines, 27.1% of respondents who had made six or fewer catalog purchases last year gave “wanted merchandise delivered directly to me” as a primary reason they shopped by mail. Among the more frequent catalog buyers, though, that percentage rose to 39.3%.)

“The price was right” was given as a reason by 40.4% of the catalog shoppers surveyed, including 46.5% of the men and 38.5% of the women. For women, the uniqueness of the merchandise was a slightly more compelling reason: 41.1% cited it. In contrast, just 36.8% of the men did.

And those in the higher income brackets rated uniqueness of the product more important than those in the lower brackets: While 58.6% of those with annual household income of more than $85,000 cited it as a top reason for buying from catalogs, just 33.9% of those with income of less than $25,000 did.

Catalog shoppers are making fewer impulse buys, if our surveys are any indication. Among participants in 1998, 12.4% said they’d made a catalog purchase on impulse; in 2000, just 4.6% had. Those who made at least seven catalog purchases last year were slightly less likely to buy on a whim: A scant 2.7% cited impulse as a primary reason for making a catalog purchase, compared with 5.4% of those who’d made six or fewer catalog purchases.

Convenience was also the top driver among the 26.4% of survey participants who’d made an online purchase last year. Two-thirds (66.8%) of the online shoppers surveyed — 71.3% of the women and 58.5% of the men — said it was a top reason they’d bought via the Web. As with catalog shopping, convenience was the number-one reason for Web shopping across the board, regardless of gender, age, or income.

Just as 40.4% of catalog shoppers said product price led to their making a catalog purchase, 40.8% of the online shoppers gave the same reason. Price was more of a factor for younger shoppers: 47.6% of those 35 and younger cited it as a reason, compared with 41.1% of those 36-50 years old, and 36.4% of those over the age of 50.

In fact, age was more of an indicator of the importance of price than income was. While 44.6% of the Web shoppers with annual household income of up to $40,000 credited their decision to buy online to the product’s price, so did 40.0% of those with income of $41,000-$85,000, and 42.9% of those with income of more than $85,000.

Why they don’t buy

Slightly more than half of those surveyed — 50.4%, to be precise — did not make a single catalog purchase last year. Their top reason for shunning catalogs: the inability to see the products in person. Slightly more than half (51.8%) cited it, up from 44.0% of those surveyed two years earlier.

Mistrust of ordering by phone or mail was the second most frequently given reason for not buying from catalogs. Sixteen percent of the non-catalog buyers gave that as their primary reason, up from 13.1% two years prior. Both the youngest and the least-affluent of the nonshoppers were the most distrustful: 27.9% of those ages 18-25 gave this as a primary reason, as did 20.6% of those with household income of less than $25,000. Conversely, only 7.7% of those with income of more than $85,000 said they mistrusted phone or mail ordering. Ditto 14.6% of those over the age of 50.

Those in the highest income bracket were far more likely to give “never see anything I want” as their reason for not making a catalog purchase within the past 12 months: 26.9% found nothing to buy, compared with 15.4% of all nonshoppers surveyed. Another 13.2% said they didn’t buy from a catalog because the items were too expensive; among those with household income of less than $25,000, the percentage swelled to 23.7%. Women appeared to be more sensitive to price than men: While only 8.3% of the male nonshoppers gave cost as their primary deterrent, 16.6% of the women did.

Apparently the time spent waiting for the item to be delivered wasn’t that much of a deterrent. Just 8.9% cited that as their reason for not shopping by catalog, down slightly from 9.8% among participants in the earlier survey.

The top reason survey participants didn’t shop online is one that’s unique to the medium. Of the 73.6% of respondents who had not made an online purchase last year, 46.7% didn’t have Internet access. That’s a significant decrease from the earlier survey, when 67.3% of the nonshoppers didn’t have Web access.

The older the respondents, the least likely they were to have access. While 55.3% of those over the age of 50 said they weren’t hooked up to the Web, only 39.2% of those ages 36-50 lacked access, as did one-third of those ages 26-35. Just 28.1% of the non-Web shoppers 18-25 years old said they lacked Web access.

Discounting the respondents who are not yet wired, almost half — 43.1% — of the non-Web buyers said they don’t trust online ordering. That’s down 19% from two years earlier, when 53.4% of the nonshoppers said they mistrusted online security.

Interestingly, nonbuyers over the age of 50 were least likely to cite that as their primary deterrent: Only 16.5% did, compared with 26.3% of those ages 18-25, 34.5% of the 26- to 35-year-olds, and 31.2% of those ages 36-50.

Also interestingly, the higher the annual household income, the more mistrustful they were. Among the nonbuyers with annual income of less than $25,000, 14.3% said they don’t trust ordering online. Compare that to 20.5% of those with income of $25,000-$40,000, 31.7% of those with income of $41,000-$85,000, and 37.1% of those with income of more than $85,000.

The inability to see the product was the second most common reason for not buying from the Web, cited by 33.5% of the nonshoppers with Web access. That’s an increase of almost 68% from the earlier survey, when just one-fifth of nonshoppers gave that reason. Apparently as consumers become more comfortable with security, they remain dissatisfied with this universal drawback to remote shopping. Men seemed more bothered by this than women: 25.0% of the males gave it as their primary reason, compared with 14.8% of the females.


In December 2000, on behalf of Catalog Age magazine, Market Research Institute completed 1,004 telephone interviews with consumers throughout the United States. A compiled list of households in all 50 states was sorted on an nth-name basis. The proportion of names selected from each state was based on the proportion of the national population represented by that state. Of the 1,004 people surveyed, 49.6% had made at least one catalog purchase last year, and 26.4% had made at least one online purchase.

Reasons for shopping by catalog*

Convenience 62.2% 60.5% 62.8%
Price was right 40.4% 46.5% 38.5%
Unique merchandise 40.2% 36.8% 41.1%
Past experience with company 38.6% 36.8% 39.1%
Wanted product delivered direct to home 30.9% 36.0% 29.4%
No time to go to store 16.7% 14.9% 17.2%
Recommendation from friend 7.4% 8.8% 8.0%
Impulse 4.6% 7.9% 3.6%
* among those who shopped by catalog last year

Reasons for shopping online*

Convenience 66.8% 58.5% 71.3%
Price was right 40.8% 45.7% 38.0%
Unique merchandise 32.5% 29.8% 33.9%
Wanted product delivered direct to home 27.5% 28.7% 26.9%
Past experience with company 15.8% 12.8% 17.5%
No time to go to store 12.5% 9.6% 14.0%
Recommendation from friend 6.8% 6.4% 7.0%
Impulse 4.2% 6.4% 2.9%
* among those who shopped online last year

Top reasons for shopping by catalog*

by annual household income

Income less than $25,000
Convenience 58.9%
Past experience with company 37.5%
Price was right 35.7%
Income $25,000-$40,000
Convenience 70.9%
Price was right 55.7%
Past experience with company 51.9%
Income $41,000-$85,000
Convenience 59.2%
Unique merchandise 42.7%
Past experience with company 39.5%
Income more than $85,000
Convenience 69.0%
Unique merchandise 58.6%
Price was right 43.1%
* among those who shopped by catalog last year

Why they don’t shop from a catalog*

Like to see product before buying it 51.8%
Don’t trust ordering by phone or mail 16.0%
Never see anything I want 15.4%
Too expensive 13.2%
Don’t want to wait for delivery 8.9%
Other 21.9%
* among those who did not shop by catalog last year

Why they don’t shop online*

Don’t have Internet access 46.7%
Among those with Internet access:
Don’t trust ordering online 43.1%
Like to see product before buying it 33.5%
Never see anything I want 8.6%
Don’t want to wait for delivery 4.3%
Too expensive 3.3%
Other 26.1%
* among those who did not shop online last year

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