New eMarketer Report Looks at How US Consumers Cross-Border Shop

In the US, shoppers are less likely to shop on non-domestic sites

March 14, 2017

More than three-fourths (77.0%) of US internet users were digital buyers in 2016, eMarketer estimates. But unlike in many other markets around the world, US shoppers aren’t particularly likely to buy from foreign ecommerce sites—mostly because domestic sites are plentiful and competitively priced.

These data points and hundreds of others come from a new eMarketer report examining cross-border shopping in 16 markets around the world. Subscribers to eMarketer PRO can access the report here: “Cross-Border Ecommerce 2017: A Country-by-Country Look at Consumer Behavior and Trends.

According to an October 2016 PayPal and Ipsos survey, roughly one-third (32%) of US digital buyers had made a cross-border digital purchase in the past year—a much lower rate than in Canada.

The Office of Communications (Ofcom) – UK placed the share of US cross-border buyers a little higher, at half of internet users. Respondents in the US were more likely to have made a cross-border digital purchase within the region (presumably Canada or Mexico) than outside (23%).

Bronto Software, in an October 2016 report, split the difference between PayPal/Ipsos and Ofcom, pegging US cross-border buyer penetration at 42% of internet users. Slightly more males than females had bought on foreign sites, and millennials were more inclined to have done so than other age groups. However, over half (51%) of Gen Xers also shopped this way.

Clothing, footwear and accessories was the leading product category bought digitally outside of the US, cited by 48% of cross-border digital buyers in the PayPal and Ipsos survey.

US buyers on foreign sites also differed from shoppers elsewhere in the Americas in terms of how often toys and hobbies (36%) and books and DVDs for entertainment or education (34%) were cited.

An International Post Corporation survey, also conducted in October 2016, found that US cross-border buyers were most likely to say they had purchased from sites in China (42%), followed by Canada (22%) and the UK (13%).

China was also the most popular source of cross-border purchases among digital buyers in the Paypal and Ipsos survey, at 14% of respondents, followed by the UK (10%). Just 7% of respondents bought from Canada, proving the US does not have a reciprocal love for its northern neighbor’s goods—at least when buying directly.

The study found that China was preferred for better prices (62%), while Canada (50%) and the UK (47%) were favored for items not available in the US, implying that cross-border buyers in the US are primarily value-driven.