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5 Key Takeaways from uShip’s National Survey on Large and Bulky E-Commerce

Study Commissioned Through YouGov Finds Oversized E-Commerce Buying to Get Shot in the Arm in 2021

It’s no secret that widespread Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 drove shoppers online, sending e-commerce into the stratosphere like a SpaceX rocket. In fact, in 2020 online shopping sales hit an incredible $791.70 billion, up 32.4 percent from $598.02 billion in 2019, according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures.

That trend has continued into Q1 2021. Despite rising vaccination rates, declining average daily coronavirus cases, and more cities and states reopening, Americans still shopped on the web in big numbers. E-commerce reached $196.66 billion in Q1, up 39.0% year over year from $141.52 billion in the same quarter of 2020, Commerce Department data shows.

Nearly $1 in every $5 spent on retail purchases came from digital orders. This suggests at a macro level, the pandemic-related boost to online shopping is far from cooling.

Couple online shopping with bar chart of e-commerce growth chart

Here at uShip, we had a natural curiosity around what all this online hub-bub meant for large and bulky e-commerce purchases, like furniture, sporting equipment, and even mattresses.

We knew it was happening – the shipping volumes going through our marketplace were hitting on all cylinders in the second half of 2020 and into 2021 – but we wanted to explore a layer deeper and take the pulse of American buyers. To discover our answer we called on YouGov, the third-party research firm, to help us poll 2500 US adults.

Ultimately, we wanted to know if the pandemic-fueled e-commerce boom would be a huge shot in the arm for the future of oversized goods online?

If you’re an online seller of big items, we think you’ll find the results encouraging. Here are the top 5 findings:

64% of Americans bought a large and bulky item online in 2020

Pie chart of  e-commerce online shoppers 2020

Once people realized the pandemic lockdown that began in March 2020 wasn’t a two-week inconvenience, they took to the world of e-commerce. They started buying furniture, exercise bikes, kayaks, sprinter vans, you name it, using retail therapy as a way to cope. All in all, not a ton of surprises here.

What’s interesting about this number is that based on past uShip surveys conducted with YouGov, we found roughly 1 in 5 Americans had bought a large item online. While there might be a tendency to draw a conclusion that the number of Americans buying large items online had tripled, that wouldn’t be a safe characterization. Previous surveys were taken before Covid and with a totally different panel of users. It was still nationally representative and kind of an interesting comparison though not statistically credible.

Of the 64% above, 3 in 4 purchased these items online at the same or higher frequency than years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic

This finding definitely highlights the true impact of buying during Covid-19 lockdowns. The 73% figure was derived from comparing the 64% to the 47% (31% the same as before + 16% more often than before) who shopped online for bulky items the same or more than in prior years.

Looking back at uShip’s 2020 numbers, once we cleared the great crevasse that was March and April, we saw record numbers in the third and fourth quarters, especially from our In-Home Delivery segment where online partners, like Chairish and 1stdibs, were selling at alarming rates.

And it wasn’t just the online sellers who experienced the boom. It was our carrier network as well. For example, one driver, Steve Turner of Classic Deco Radio Transport, bought a sprinter van on March 1, 2020. He started booking on uShip and ended up driving over 200,000 miles his first year, making deliveries to every corner of the country.

Bookings went crazy. I never thought it could be like that. It really becomes addicting,” Steve said. Read more about Steve’s story here.

45 percent of Americans who purchase large or bulky items online say they are very or somewhat likely to continue buying large items online

Pie chart of 2021 online e-commerce shopping trends

This goes to the heart of what we were curious about. And we find this number very encouraging. To us, it says a lot of people jumped into oversized e-commerce and liked it. Deliveries were reliable and if they didn’t like something, returns were easy.

As for the other swaths in this finding, 4 in 10 Americans (39%) apparently are those who, for years, have already become comfortable buying large items online, as they indicated they were neither likely nor unlikely to continue buying large items online.

And there will always be a percentage of holdout buyers – the 16% in our study – who can’t get their head around buying a piece of furniture, motorcycle, or piano sight unseen. They say they are very or somewhat unlikely to continue buying large items online. They’ll come around.

The truth of the matter is that for many years, the infrastructure behind e-commerce has been developed and refined. The pandemic simply threw it into overdrive – and that momentum will continue for the foreseeable future.

53% are comfortable with large online purchases arriving between 8 and 21 days

Pie chart of buyers' delivery expectations

The results of this question show over half of online buyers of large items have realistic expectations when it comes to delivery speed. The 37% who say they expect large items to arrive in less than seven days clearly are under the influence and lure of Amazon Prime’s fast and free delivery. Given the state of supply chain, it’s more like seven weeks for delivery these days.

Communication barely edges delivery speed and carrier professionalism

Pie chart of buyer expectations from delivery companies

Now, more than ever, buyers’ delivery experience is playing into buyers’ perception of merchants and online sellers. So it’s no surprise that nearly 6 in 10 (57%) of Americans said shipment status and communication features were very important to becoming a repeat buyer.

Meanwhile, finishing neck-and-neck in second place were delivery speed (51%) and carrier professionalism (50%) as key influences in buyer’s future purchase decisions.

USHIP’S TAKE

Whether you’re an online furniture marketplace like Chairish or 1stdibs, a national kayak seller like Vibe Kayaks, an Etsy seller making one-of-a-kind coffee tables or wood bedframes, or a motorcycle marketplace like Rumble On, the future of selling online is bright. And shipping and supply chain is becoming an increasingly important vital part of that process and customer experience.

“The pandemic has accelerated e-commerce growth beyond anyone’s wildest imagination – and this includes buyers’ comfort purchasing large and bulky items online,” said Kris Lamb, CEO of uShip.

“Our hope is that these survey results give online sellers insight into the future of large and bulky e-commerce, as well as the importance of a solid delivery infrastructure that emphasizes status updates, communication, delivery speed, and carrier professionalism as it relates to establishing a repeat customer base, the lifeblood of any business,” Lamb said.

SURVEY METHODOLOGY

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2461 US Adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between April 12-14, 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US Adults.