Nearly half of what’s being dubbed “avid” U.S. online shoppers bought items from international retailers this year, driven in part by lower prices and broader merchandise selections, according to the sixth annual UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study.

On top of that, 81% cited price as the most important factor when searching for and selecting products to buy online, United Parcel Service reported.

"The lines that separate domestic and international retailers continue to disappear," noted Alan Gershenhorn, chief commercial officer for UPS, in a statement.

"Retailers are now competing across the globe,” he added. "Online shoppers are able to shop the world's boutiques and bazaars with ease. We're witnessing a glimpse of the future, when retailers and their customers will be defined less by geographic location and more by how they connect with each other. The challenge is to best provide shoppers with the choice, control and convenience they desire."

Does this shift to online purchasing and more “global shopping” help or harm the freight prospects of U.S. truckers? That’s unclear, according to John Larkin – managing director and head of transportation capital markets research for Stifel Capital Markets.

“It is unclear whether e-commerce is good or bad for freight demand,” he mentioned in a recent research note.

“Clearly, more forward positioned inventory is required at fulfillment centers in order to support the full range of delivery options offered by leading e-commerce retailers,” he explained. “Certainly, the inbound flows to the more numerous, smaller footprint fulfillment centers can still be handled by intermodal and truckload although more consolidation of multiple shipments may be required upstream in the supply chain.”

He added that the need for more consolidation of multiple store keeping units or “SKUs” into a full load is necessitated by the smaller footprint of the fulfillment centers which reduces the optimum order quantity. “Absent consolidation, many of these smaller shipments may indeed be more efficiently handled by less-than-truckload carriers rather than intermodal or truckload carriers,” Larkin emphasized. “And with e-commerce fulfillment not requiring dedicated brick and mortar replenishment moves, incremental dedicated truckload opportunities and private fleet expansion may be limited.”

According to eMarketer, global cross-border e-commerce is projected to grow at an average of 22% from 2015 to 2020 compared to 15% for U.S. e-commerce during the same time period.

Some other toenail freight trends UPS winkled out from its annual poll of 5,000 online shoppers include:

  • Half of shoppers (50%) have used ship-to-store this year, with 44% of them making additional purchases in store, and 41% plan to use ship to store more often in the next year.
  • The use of smartphones continues to be an increasingly important part of the shopping experience online and in physical stores as eight in 10online shoppers use retailer apps, often preferring apps to websites because of faster speed and a better user experience.
  • Of the 47% of U.S. consumers who purchased from an international retailer on a U.S. online marketplace, the majority of these retailers are based in China (61%), the U.K. (23%), Canada (15%), and Japan (14%).
  • China is now the biggest e-commerce market in the world with approximately $900 billion in 2016 sales, accounting for nearly half of all digital retail sales worldwide according to eMarketer.