Consumers gave retailers the gift of goodwill over the holidays, but widespread delivery delays will impact shoppers’ behavior in the future, according to Convey’s latest survey. To re-establish trust in their fulfillment capabilities, retailers must commit to boost shipping transparency and agility.

Despite the global pandemic, consumers’ assessment of the holiday shopping season was upbeat: more than a third said their gift-buying experience was better than in 2019. The vast majority reported being flexible about package deliveries, with four in five respondents (80%) giving retailers more time to deliver items and 76% saying they remained flexible knowing that gifts might not arrive by Christmas.

Delivery delays and inventory shortages were indeed rampant, the survey found. More than half of respondents, 57%, said at least one package arrived later than promised. When asked about problems encountered during the season, the top response was that “shipping took longer than expected,” at 41%, while more than a third (34%) reported that the items they wanted weren’t available. And even after acknowledging beforehand that gifts might not arrive by Christmas, 24% said that deliveries arriving late after the big day were a problem.

The lasting effects of a chaotic season

Those widespread delays will likely have a ripple effect. While survey respondents expressed goodwill, they also confirmed that delivery is central to the online shopping experience, with 87% saying it’s somewhat or very important.

Moreover, 47% of respondents said they’re unlikely to shop with a retailer again after a bad shipping experience. Retailers that didn’t make the grade during the holidays are likely to feel the fallout: nearly 1 in 4 respondents said they’ll be choosier when they shop online in the future as a result of peak season delivery delays.

Retailers’ priorities for regaining trust

Given the promise of continued instability in 2021, retailers must commit to continued improvement of their delivery experience. Among the top to-dos:

Promotional calendars built for an early surge

Amazon’s rescheduled 2020 Prime Day effectively kicked off the peak season in mid-October. This year, 44% of survey respondents said they’ll start looking for gifts even earlier – which means merchants should start planning now to accommodate side-by-side Halloween and holiday shopping. 

Stepped-up transparency

One in five consumers (20%) said they don’t trust retailers’ estimated delivery dates (EDD) as a result of holiday delays – a lack of confidence sellers should combat with more transparency, not less. By providing tools such as mobile shipping status alerts and scheduling options for white-glove delivery, merchants empower consumers with vital information. 

Increased flexibility

More than half of consumers – 53% – used store pickup for a purchase during the holidays, according to the survey, so retailers should continue building online fulfillment services at physical locations. Ship- or deliver-from-store capabilities can further expand retailers’ options, as can use of regional delivery services as an alternative to the major carriers.

After holiday shipping delays, shoppers will be choosier about where they shop online in 2021. Retailers must invest now in transparency and flexibility for their fulfillment operations – not just in anticipation of an early holiday season, but as a means to win sales and loyalty year-round.