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Shipping Delays and Early Holiday Shopping: What Consumers Have Planned

The clogged supply chain and shipping delays that plagued brands and retailers for months have landed on consumers’ radars just in time for the holidays. But even though they know what retailers are up against, few are willing to change their shopping habits.

That’s according to data from Convey by Project44, which surveyed more than 1,300 U.S. shoppers about whether they planned to adapt their holiday gift-buying strategies this fall.

“Shoppers, many of whom were burned last holiday with late deliveries, are aware of looming supply chain and delivery issues this season,” Convey by Project44 said. Still, “expectations remain high, and retailers are expected to accommodate a wide range of consumer shopping preferences.”

Even though half of all consumers surveyed by the delivery experience management platform fingered out-of-stock products as their biggest concern this season—with shipping delays (46 percent), shipping costs (41 percent) and high product prices (46 percent) also causing them worry—57 percent still said they would start shopping at the same time, or even later, than they did in 2020. What’s more, 37 percent of those admitted laggards said they were willing to give retailers no more than one to two extra days to deliver items.

Unfortunately for many of the country’s retailers, Amazon’s famously fast and free Prime shipping has conditioned consumers to expect speed and convenience no matter the circumstance—whether retailers are faced with the reverberating impacts of a global pandemic or a standard holiday rush. The majority (71 percent) of shoppers who said they would start browsing and buying later this year said that free shipping is still important to them, and 79 percent of respondents said their household has an Amazon Prime membership.

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Not surprisingly, 87 percent said they were likely to turn to the online giant for their holiday shopping needs this season, while big box retailers with an online presence like Target, Walmart and Best Buy captured 67 percent of respondents’ interest. Department stores like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s and Kohl’s came at a distant No. 3, with 34 percent saying they planned to shop these channels.

Even amid warnings that disruptions are likely to continue, 88 percent of shoppers said that free shipping and on time delivery remain a priority this holiday, suggesting that the Amazon way has solidified as the optimal shopping experience in their minds. And the pressure on brands is increasing—67 percent of consumers said they would refuse to shop with a retailer again after one bad delivery experience.

Most shoppers (71 percent) said that two-day shipping was the most important delivery service a brand could offer, while 63 percent pointed to free shipping on returns. A near-equal number (62 percent) requested the ability to track packages en route to their destination. Consumers also want transparency, with 56 percent saying they were more likely to click “buy” if they were able to see an estimated delivery date at checkout.

For young Gen Z and millennial shoppers, flexibility is key. Forty-eight percent said that they considered same-day delivery important, and 54 percent said that buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) is a must-have option.

“Shoppers are going to put retailers to the test this year, despite awareness of the challenges sellers face,” Carson Krieg, director of industry solutions and strategy at Convey by Project44, said. Thanks to Amazon’s dominant influence, free, fast, on-time delivery is an expectation, not a perk, he added. “This year’s survey reveals that transparency on pricing, estimated delivery dates, and shipment delays is of utmost importance for sellers to remain competitive.”

While shoppers may be unlikely to heed the industry’s warnings about potential delays and setbacks, they may respond to early deals. Data from NPD Group’s Checkout service, which provides industry insights from 130,000 U.S. consumers, showed that 51 percent of shoppers actually plan to start holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, due in large part to the volume of October shopping holidays popping up.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday have still led the shopping stampede over the past three years, data from 2020 showed that Amazon’s October Prime Day, along with various other retailer promotions, made Oct. 13 one of the top three shopping days of Q4.

This fall, Amazon and Target both announced holiday promotions in October, while the Coresight Research-led 10.10 Shopping Festival is gearing up for its second annual launch on Oct. 10. This week, Cosmopolitan teamed with online checkout service Bolt on a holiday-themed online shopping popup, “Cosmo Loves x Bolt,” geared toward millennials and Gen Z.

“Holiday shopping has been on an earlier start trajectory since Thanksgiving Day store openings in 2014, and then further accelerated by last year’s pandemic shift of Amazon’s Prime Days to October and panic over shipping delays,” Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry advisor for NPD, said. “Holiday 2021 continues the early shopping trend, with the added layer of inventory concerns motivating many shoppers to grab what they want when they see it, instead of waiting for better deals later in the season.”