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56% of Consumers Cited a Major Breakdown in Holiday Shopping

Although there were many circumstances well beyond their control this holiday season, retailers found themselves in a make-or-break position with customers that often came down to their ability to fulfill online purchases on time.

According to a recent holiday reaction survey from warehouse automation and analytics solutions provider Voxware, which specifically examined post-purchase execution and how well brands performed with on-time and accurate delivery, 56 percent of shoppers said they were unable to purchase gifts they were considering because they were not available or would not arrive in time for the holidays.

Additionally, another 56 percent of shoppers said that gifts they bought online arrived later than the date that was promised at the time of purchase.

And making matters worse, of those who report getting gifts later than they were promised, the problem was not isolated to a single order. Half of those who received gifts late report that more than 25 percent of their gifts were delayed.

“These numbers indicate a mixed performance from retailers and should serve as a wake-up call to the industry to advance their distribution systems to ensure a flawless customer experience,” said Voxware CEO and president Keith Phillips in a statement. “With e-commerce continuing to grow, brands cannot afford any mistakes, or the consumer will take their business elsewhere.”

In August, as retailers prepped for what was anticipated to be the most hectic holiday season ever due to the anticipated fulfillment challenges, Phillips told Sourcing Journal that very few fulfillment centers would be capable of meeting the expected demand in their current state.

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“With distribution centers continuing to experience virus spread and absenteeism, it becomes really difficult to get that product out the door on time,” Phillips said. “Then you hit the back-end challenge of the supply chain, and that is that UPS, FedEx and the USPS do not have the capacity to handle the demand that they’re seeing even now, so that would be even less so when we get to the holiday time.”

Now that the holiday season has passed, it appears the high e-commerce demand indeed was too much for retail fulfillment networks in many instances.

Seventy-three percent of consumers told Voxware that the retailers that met or exceeded their expectations during the holiday season will get more business from them in the future. On the other hand, the retailers that were unprepared may be in for a rough year, as 53 percent reported they will never place another order with merchants that mishandled their order fulfillment.

It’s notable that the 53 percent is a massive jump in potential retailer abandonment compared to Voxware’s 2018 holiday survey, in which 31 percent of respondents said they would avoid shopping with a merchant ever again if any aspect of their holiday order was botched. If anything, it signifies the exponentially increasing expectations for e-commerce experiences, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The survey also revealed that 41 percent of shoppers say they were unable to ship items from a single order to multiple locations. This may have been a big issue for retailers given initial customer expectations Voxware uncovered in its 2020 shopping and shipping survey conducted in October, which noted that 77 percent of respondents planned to have more gifts shipped directly to recipients than the prior year.

The urge to let others know about a bad experience only continues to increase as more shoppers spend online. More than 43 percent of consumers surveyed in October said that they would be very likely to share their negative experiences online (up from 33 percent in 2018 and 23 percent in 2016).

On top of that, the more recent Voxware survey, which was fielded from Dec. 28-30, 2020, said that 39 percent of respondents found the lack of gifting options such as gift wrapping and gift receipts was an issue when completing online holiday shopping this year.

With the predictions of a major fulfillment crunch quickly becoming reality starting in October, the holiday season put the onus on retailers to be more transparent about the status of their deliveries. Shoppers almost unanimously agreed with this, with 54 percent of those who had gift delivery delays saying it was extremely important that retailers continuously communicate the status of their delayed orders, while another 42 percent said it was important.

Yet over the holiday season, a portion of shoppers indicated dissatisfaction with various communications issues they faced after executing an online purchase. For example, 42 percent said retailers did not provide enough information about delayed items, while 41 percent reported that customer service was unavailable or unable to address questions or concerns.

And while Voxware previously indicated that 97 percent of consumers say that the way retailers handle returns influences whether they will purchase from that retailer in the future, 37 percent later said that packages delivered did not include information for making a return. Forty-five percent reported that information for tracking packages was unclear or not provided.