Survey: The Laziest Reason Why Americans Waste Money When Shopping Online

People throw away more than $150 annually thanks to this excuse.

Americans can’t stop shopping online. According to a 2019 Deloitte survey, online purchases are expected to make up 59% of this year’s consumer holiday spending. Looking even further ahead into the future, some analysts predict that 95% of all retail sales will take place online by 2040.

But what happens when the merchandise arrives damaged or broken? What happens if you no longer need it? More specifically, what’s your plan when the retailer finally restocks those poplin pajama pants that you wanted in red but reluctantly bought in turquoise? Assuming that money matters to you, your first inclination would likely be to seek out a return. But, as it so happens, that’s where Americans seem to be losing out the most when it comes to online shopping.

GOBankingRates surveyed 737 Americans and asked them about the last item they bought online that went unused and why they didn’t return it to the seller. The main reason, as it turns out, was a fussy and annoying return process.

Get Ready: These Are the 98 Stores Open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday

The survey noted several interesting findings regarding Americans’ online shopping habits:

Key Findings

These are some of the highlights from GOBankingRates’ survey:

  • About 38% of Americans haven’t returned unused clothes they purchased online. Compared to other items like electronics, groceries and media, Americans were more likely to keep clothing they bought online, even if they didn’t wear it.
  • When asked why they didn’t return their last unused purchase, 32% said it was because the return process was too much of a hassle. Respondents also cited high return shipping costs (17%) and being outside of the return window (17%) as other factors.
  • Online shoppers waste $152 per year, on average, on unused items. Men behaved significantly worse in this regard, wasting $185 annually compared with the $124 that women spent on unused purchases.
  • Half of the survey respondents purchased and kept an unused item from Amazon. Walmart was the only other retailer to tally a double-digit response rate, at 14%, which is a difference of 36 percentage points.
  • Before making an online purchase, be sure to note the retailer’s return policy — just in case. Your favorite online shop might be one of the stores that offer better return policies than others.

Back to the top

The Return Process Is Too Much of a Hassle for 32% of Americans

While the ease of acquiring merchandise has steadily increased over the past decade, the ease of returning said merchandise hasn’t reached the same heights. In a recent NPR/Marist poll, 91% of national online shoppers said they never or rarely return online purchases. According to the respondents in GOBankingRates’ survey, it’s because the return process is too much of a hassle. Nearly 32% of Americans said this was the case, and it was the No. 1 reason why people didn’t return an unsatisfactory online purchase.

“Customers likely are too lazy to return items because it’s just not convenient,” said Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst for DealNews. “Most of the time consumers have to ship things back via UPS or FedEx, which means finding a store that can handle those shipments, and then taking time out of your busy day to drop off the package.”

Ramhold also cited factors like the cost of shipping and having to buy packing materials as reasons why Americans tend to skip the return process.

Older respondents appeared less likely to be frustrated by online return processes than younger generations. Only 26% of respondents 65 and older claimed the return process was too much of a hassle, compared with 40% of respondents ages 35-44 and 36% of respondents in the 18-24 age demographic. One exception was with the 25-34 age group, where just 15% of respondents said the return process was inconvenient.

Americans Who Didn’t Return Something They Bought Online Because the Process Was Too Inconvenient
DemographicResponse Rate
Ages 18-2436.13%
Ages 25-3415%
Ages 35-4440%
Ages 45-5437.25%
Ages 55-6429.84%
Ages 65 and older26.42%
Female31.9%
Male31.58%

An annoying return process wasn’t the only reason that Americans decided not to return a particular purchase. About 17% of respondents claimed the cost of shipping the item back was too high, and the same percentage said they had fallen outside of the return window. In some instances, online shoppers were unable to return the item at all: 14% said they bought an item that was nonrefundable or final sale.

Back to the top

Good To Know: Walmart’s Holiday Return Policy

They Tend To Give Up On Returning Unused Clothes or Accessories

Online shopping for clothes remains a popular pastime for many Americans. A July 2019 report from Digital Commerce 360, formerly Internet Retailer, found that online apparel sales now represent 34% of all U.S. apparel sales. Additionally, the top gift on both low and high spenders’ Christmas lists this year is clothing, according to Deloitte.

Given the volume at which people seem to be buying clothes online, it makes sense that so many are winding up with unused or unwanted items. More than 38% of Americans in GOBankingRates’ survey said the last item they bought online that they didn’t use — and didn’t return — was a piece of clothing or an accessory. This response was by far the most common, ahead of other items like electronics at 15% and health and beauty products at 11%.

The Last Unused Item That Americans Bought Online but Didn’t Return
Type of ItemResponse Rate
Clothes or accessories38.4%
Electronics or technology (e.g., phones, TVs, computers)15.06%
Health and beauty products10.72%
Media (e.g., books, CDs, video games)8.28%
Groceries, food and drink7.33%
Furniture, decor and kitchenware6.51%
Toys or baby equipment2.85%
Other10.85%

Women outpaced men in terms of not returning unwanted clothes. About 44% of female respondents said they didn’t return the unused clothing that they bought online, compared with 32% of male respondents. Men, however, were almost twice as likely than women to not return electronics or technology, such as phones, TVs and computers.

Back to the top

Maximize Your Savings: The 13 Best Cash-Back Sites Worth Your Time

People Are Less Likely To Make Amazon Returns

For the online shoppers in GOBankingRates’ survey, Amazon was king — and the source of many unwanted purchases. About 50% of all respondents cited Amazon as the retailer that they bought their unused items from. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said their purchase was from a different retailer, which was the second-most popular response.

A recent First Insight survey found that men are more likely to be frequent Amazon shoppers than women. This finding held up in GOBankingRates’ survey, where 58% of men said they purchased their last unused item from Amazon as opposed to 43% of women. However, Amazon was still the top retailer across all age groups and gender demographics.

Back to the top

Men Throw Away More Money Than Women

Americans aren’t spending a fortune on unwanted goods. The average cost of all the items that went unused and weren’t returned equated to about $72, excluding taxes and shipping. But breaking down the average by gender revealed an eye-popping statistic: Women spent an average of $45 on their last unused purchase, whereas men dropped a whopping $104.

To be clear, men aren’t necessarily shopping more online — they’re simply spending a greater amount of money per transaction. A 2017 KPMG study agreed with this finding about men’s online shopping habits, concluding that men were more likely to purchase higher-priced items like luxury goods or electronics, while women often sought less expensive items like health and beauty products or food.

How Much Americans Spent On Their Last Unused Purchase
DemographicAverage Cost Before Taxes and Shipping
Ages 18-24$116.64
Ages 25-34$78.10
Ages 35-44$59.97
Ages 45-54$62.73
Ages 55-64$53.26
Ages 65 and older$54.76
Female$45.39
Male$103.65

Interestingly, younger Americans spent much more on their last unused purchase than older respondents. The average cost of an item purchased by respondents in the 18-24 age bracket was $117. From there, the dollar amount fell drastically. Respondents ages 25-34 paid an average of $78, while the 55-64 age group spent a low of $53.

Back to the top

Related: Know Target’s Holiday Return Policy Before You Shop

Online Shoppers Waste an Average of $152 On Unused Items

Survey respondents were asked to think about all of their online purchases within the last year. For items that weren’t used or returned to the seller, the average total cost was estimated to be $152. Again, there was a large discrepancy between men and women in this regard. Men wasted an average of $185 on items they bought online and never used, while women spent significantly less — $124.

There was also a fairly wide discrepancy among age groups. Respondents ages 45-54 and ages 25-34 wasted the most money, at $291 and $241, respectively. Those ages 65 and older spent the least — $105. The remaining age groups fell below the overall average: 18- to 24-year-olds purchased $145 worth of unused goods, respondents ages 35-44 paid $125, and respondents in the 55-64 age range amassed $130 in wasted merchandise.

As for why they didn’t end up using those items, many Americans had reasonable excuses:

The Reasons Why Americans Didn’t Use an Item They Bought Online
Answer ChoiceResponse Rate
The item didn’t suit my needs35.01%
I didn’t have any use for the item after all18.86%
The item didn’t match the photo or description online15.2%
I forgot that I already had the item10.99%
The item was damaged or broken10.72%
Other16.28%

For both men and women, the top reason why they didn’t use their particular item was that it no longer suited their needs. Male respondents were almost twice as likely as women to say that they had found no use for the item after all. And 15% of both men and women said their item went unused because it didn’t match the photo or online description.

Back to the top

Don’t Miss: Best Credit Cards for Online Shopping

How To Cut Back On Your Online Shopping Addiction

Whether you only buy from Amazon every couple of months or you have a full-fledged online shopping addiction that you can’t seem to curb, there are several things you need to consider before adding something to your cart. This includes double-checking the product description and assessing your own belongings to confirm that you do, in fact, need this item and it’s not just another pointless impulse buy. Look to purchase only what you’re certain you’ll use.

In addition, before recklessly blowing your next paycheck, make sure that the retailer you’re buying from has an agreeable return policy. Stores like Macy’s and Costco, for example, offer generous return policies where consumers can return nearly any item bought online within 90 days of purchase for a full refund. Meanwhile, some independent retailers might not offer refunds at all — caveat emptor.

But, of course, the best way to avoid wasting money is to not spend any money. The $152 that the average American wastes on online shopping — which doesn’t even factor in taxes, shipping and more — could be better utilized in an emergency fund or stashed away in a retirement account. Keep that in mind when you make any future purchases.

Saving might not be sexy, but neither are those Cole Haan sneakers collecting dust in your closet.

Back to the top

More From GOBankingRates

Last updated: Nov. 25, 2019

Methodology: GOBankingRates surveyed 737 Americans ages 18 and older from across the country between Oct. 29, 2019, and Nov. 13, 2019, asking six different questions: (1) What was the last item you bought online that you didn’t end up using and you didn’t return to the seller? (2) What is the name of the retailer that you purchased that particular item from online? (3) How much did that particular item cost (not including taxes or shipping)? (4) Why didn’t you use that particular item? (5) Why didn’t you return that particular item? and (6) In the past 12 months, how much money do you think you’ve spent on all items you’ve bought online but didn’t end up using or returning back to the seller? For questions No. 4 and 5, respondents could select all answers that applied. Respondents had to answer “yes” to the following screener question to participate in the survey: “In the last 12 months, have you bought something online that you didn’t end up using or returning to the seller?” This survey was commissioned by ConsumerTrack Inc. and conducted by Survata, an independent research firm in San Francisco. Respondents were reached across the Survata publisher network, where they take a survey to unlock premium content, like articles and e-books. Respondents received no cash compensation for their participation. More information on Survata’s methodology can be found at survata.com/methodology.

About the Author

Chris joined GOBankingRates in 2016 and has over five years of experience working at various print and digital publications. Prior to joining GOBankingRates, he served as a copy editor on the news and sports desk at The Times of Northwest Indiana. He received his BA in English from Illinois State University.