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Digital buyers becoming even more loyal

online shopping
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The web's most loyal shoppers are becoming even more devoted.

For the first time in a survey's five-year history, "avid" online shoppers — defined as those consumers who make two or more purchases on the web in a typical three-month period — said more than half of the purchases they made during that timeframe were done online.

The results, published as part of UPS' annual Pulse of the Online Shopper Study, were based on a comScore survey of more than 5,000 U.S. online shoppers. Although the findings are skewed toward consumers who already gravitate toward the web, and exclude the $602 billion bricks-and-mortar dominated grocery store industry, they nonetheless represent the latest in a steady climb over the past few years, as consumers become more comfortable buying items on the web.

Still, other findings from the report indicate that the store's role remains important to shoppers, as more choose to pick up their digital orders at a physical retail location.

"The industry is changing at an incredibly fast rate," said Teresa Finley, chief marketing officer at UPS.

According to the report, 51 percent of purchases by "avid" online shoppers over the past three months, excluding groceries, were made on the web. That compares to 48 percent in 2015, and 47 percent in 2014.

Though traditional retailers are contributing to this growth, much of the acceleration can be attributed to a well-known foe: Amazon. A separate report from Forrester Research recently found that Amazon's U.S. retail business accounted for roughly 60 percent of total online growth between 2014 and 2015. And with its subscription Prime service, it's understandable that a paying member would lean toward using the service when buying replenishment or other items.

Indeed, as online sales continue to grow share, trends at major retailers including Wal-Mart and Macy's have slowed. Yet UPS' report emphasized the importance of these companies' competitive advantage: their store bases.

Half of the survey's respondents said they have used retailer's ship-to-store option over the past year, up 2 percentage points over 2015. Of that 50 percent, nearly half said they made additional purchases when they went to pick up their item.

The survey also found an uptick in the amount of purchases being made on smartphones, in line with external data. According to the study, 44 percent of respondents used their smartphone to make a purchase, up 3 percentage points from 2015.

Although online shopping continues to steal share from physical stores, it accounted for just 7.8 percent of total sales during the first quarter, according to preliminary data from the Commerce Department.