The expected year-end surge in Web shopping is more than welcome for pandemic-weary retailers — but the impending rush to get gifts under the tree in time threatens to undercut holiday cheer.
A recent Convey survey found that 82% of shoppers will do at least some holiday shopping online, while nearly 3 in 10 will use the Web exclusively — good news amidst forecasts of nearly flat retail sales overall. But the risk runs high of disappointing customers with late deliveries.
Shoppers are flexible — up to a point
The good news is that according to Convey’s survey, 9 in 10 shoppers are willing to give retailers extra time to deliver packages this holiday season due to the pandemic. And nearly 4 in 10 respondents say they’re starting their holiday shopping earlier due to COVID.
That flexibility has limits, though. Shoppers still want gifts to arrive under the tree on time, with 42% of survey respondents saying they’re worried about late gift arrival. With major carriers’ capacity already largely spoken for, retailers need to boost their delivery agility through alternatives such as regional networks in order to make the deadline.
Spotlight fulfillment options with timing in mind
Setting customer expectations appropriately is another crucial element of success. To earn goodwill, retailers should communicate transparently and sync promotions strategically. They should:
- Message delivery dates clearly, starting well before checkout. While a longer delivery timeframe is acceptable, shoppers want to know about it up front. Nearly 6 in 10 shoppers say they’re more likely to complete a purchase if the Estimated Delivery Date (EDD) is visible in the cart prior to starting the checkout process, according to Convey’s survey.
- Use free shipping to drive early purchasing. Free shipping remains the most important delivery-related service retailers can offer, according to Convey’s survey, so retailers should use it judiciously to avoid a fulfillment crunch. For example, free shipping without a minimum purchase, if offered, should be available early and for a limited time only; by Free Shipping Day Dec. 14, significant order thresholds should be the rule.
- Promote store pickup now, not just last-minute. Retailers shouldn’t wait until after shipping cutoff dates have passed to promote in-store fulfillment. Among Convey survey respondents, those starting their shopping earlier due to the pandemic were more interested than average in store pickup, suggesting it has appeal all season long.
- Spotlight virtual gift cards for late-season buyers. The 17% of Convey survey respondents who said COVID-19 would prompt them to shop later in the season are especially likely to seek gifts on the Web. To avoid a last-minute shipping crunch, as the season ends merchants should highlight online gift cards like never before — including with “one for them, one for you” promotions that award free additional gift cards with purchase.
Shipping headaches threaten to undercut the holiday season’s much-needed surge of online sales. But with a flexible approach and promotional messages synced to fulfillment capabilities, retailers can keep their delivery promises, earning the trust that transforms gift buyers into loyal customers.