Keeping Pace with Holiday Shipping Expectations

Big sales and holidays make for the most wonderful times of the year — unless a consumer is sending a gift that doesn’t reach its recipient on schedule. 

According to our 2018 Peak Season Shipping Insights, last year’s peak season was stressful for retailers as well. Even though sales grew by 18.3%, shattering sales records, delivery exceptions spiked to 14% due to high delivery volume. Last peak shipping season, we saw the shopping season affect both parcel and large-item shippers. We saw a 236% increase in parcel shipments year-over-year, and a 638% increase in LTL shipments year-over-year.

Delays, EDD (Estimated Delivery Dates), and failed delivery attempts were the major culprits for exceptions; while delays, missing packages, and carrier complaints caused the most customer complaints and “Where is my order” calls (WISMO calls). 

Managing Ever-Increasing Peak Season Delivery Expectations

Managing delivery expectations is a year-round concern, especially with increased sales, like Amazon Prime Days and peak retail season, creating spikes in delivery volume. During these times of the year, customer expectations are at an all-time high, and dropping the ball on delivery promises can have consequences that could reverberate long after the season ends. According to our annual survey of 1,500 shoppers, more than one-quarter (27%) had higher delivery expectations for retailers during the holidays than compared to any other time of the year.

The goalposts keep moving. It used to be that holiday shopping didn’t kick off until Thanksgiving was under wraps. Now 20% of consumers plan to do holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, and nearly an equal amount (22%) expect to have finished shopping by Cyber Monday. 

In 2018, last-minute shoppers also cut it close. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), more than half (56%) of holiday shoppers – about 134 million people, up from 126 million last year – planned to shop the last Saturday before Christmas, which fell on December 22 last year. 

Holiday shopping starting earlier means that online returns started earlier too. Last year,  the highest volume of returns, otherwise known as “Returns Day,” fell on December 19 when in the past the bulk didn’t come until the new year, while last-minute shoppers taking advantage of expedited shipping put stress on delivery providers. 

Holiday Package Delivery is a High Stakes Game

It’s not just a matter of missing a deadline — a late package can color customers’ impressions of a retailer for long after the shipping mishap. 

“If things don’t go according to the expectations of consumers, they’re going to call into your customer service, or worse — they’re not going to order from you again.”

Shoppers prefer to interact with retailers rather than carriers, and it’s the retailers that take the blame when things go wrong. Nearly all (94%) of shoppers believed it was the retailer’s fault when delivery went wrong, and 83% of shoppers will not return after just one negative experience. And when delivery volume skyrockets and carrier capacity gets crunched — as it does every year during sales and holidays — the chances for exceptions increase.  

According to Greg Dahlstrom, VP of Logistics at, “If things don’t go according to the expectations of consumers, they’re going to call into your customer service, or worse — they’re not going to order from you again.” [Watch the video here.]

Bad faith can sour the customer relationship, when getting peak holiday shipping right could be an opportunity to build loyalty — beyond just the holidays. When a customer has a good holiday shipping experience, they are 17% more likely to recommend that retailer than during any other time of year. 

What Your Customers Expect During Peak Shipping Season

According to our eBook, cost was cited by one-third as an important delivery factor during the holiday season, though 29% mentioned a desire for a specific delivery date and another 23% wanted a specific date range. Not surprisingly, specific dates were more important to shoppers who made purchases later in the season.

Over 95% of shoppers said they expect retailers to proactively respond if the carrier’s estimated delivery date changes while a shipment is in transit, and over 90% expect some form of action or compensation for missed promise dates. 

This is even more imperative for shoppers placing orders later on in peak season. After December 18th, shoppers were 26% more likely to prefer a return and refund if their order was delayed. Now that expedited shipping is more commonplace—there was a 4x rise in two-day shipping in 2018—retailers need to be aware of elevated consumer expectations when choosing same-day or two-day shipping. 

Order Tracking Is Not Enough To Appease Your Customers

Using branded tracking pages to increase transparency into package tracking can go a long way. However, if an issue comes up in transit, shoppers have said over and over that order visibility is not enough to meet their expectations.

In fact, top parcel and freight retailers such as and Grove Collaborative report that when they proactively resolve issues in-transit, they experience fewer WISMO calls, improve NPS scores, and see higher revenue.

Through proactive monitoring and resolution, increased its NPS by 6.3% overall, and it reduced WISMO calls by 27%. Grove Collaborative raised its NPS by 9.4% overall within six months and reduced its response time to WISMO calls and support tickets by 77%. The company also found that when it proactively resolved exceptions, it saw a 3 point NPS increase for impacted customers compared to their average score, and their loyal customers bought more items — Grove increased its Average Order Value (AOV) by 50%.

Self-Service Delivery Options Decrease Cart Abandonment

Shoppers are growing accustomed to being in control, choosing dates that work for them, tracking a package’s progress and even being able to make changes once an order is placed. The leading way (72%) smartphone users planned to use their devices for holiday shopping last year wasn’t to comparison shop or find deals — it was to track order status, according to Deloitte.

Carriers like UPS, FedEx and USPS have been offering more options to make changes to shipments in transit, but 97.5% of shoppers expect to either be able to self-serve or interact with the retailer directly to resolve delivery issues. 

Top furniture companies are using Delivery Experience Management to empower customers with self-service capabilities, allowing customers to make changes in transit when issues come up. One retailer uses self-service Delivery Appointment Scheduling, allowing customers schedule their own large-item delivery appointments, decreasing transit time (getting items to customers more quickly) and reducing missed appointments. 

Online “power shoppers,” or those who plan to do 75% or more of their holiday shopping online, are 2x as likely to expect to be able to make changes to their order while it’s in transit. Roughly one-in-five expect to be able to reroute a package, though that’s easier said than done if shoppers attempt to contact the retailer. 

For retailers to create goodwill and loyalty with holiday shipping, shoppers must be given transparent delivery deadlines, regular updates, and flexible options to inspire confidence and repeat business. 

Convey’s customers saved time and money with delivery experience management this year. Learn how they navigated top issues during peak season here. If you’re thinking about adding faster holiday shipping options this year to keep up with Amazon, read this article first

Christina Singh Portrait
About the Author

Christina Singh

After graduating from the University of Virginia, Christina promptly packed her bags and moved far west to the Lone Star State. In Austin, she built and managed reputations for small business owners through social media, and found a passion for media, targeting, and content strategy. As a Content Marketing Manager, Christina helps to drive demand generation for Convey through content, developing content strategy and creating outbound marketing materials for its potential customers. Christina Singh on LinkedIn