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Delays Spook Shoppers Into Holiday Head Start

Consumers are taking notice of the impact of global supply chain disruptions, with nearly one in five (19 percent) saying they have started holiday shopping earlier this year because they’re worried about shipping delays, according to a recent survey from ParcelLab. Already, 42 percent of surveyed shoppers said their package was delayed by at least a day.

No retailer or brand has been spared from the delays, with Walmart, Nike, Uniqlo, Adidas, Target and many more feeling the impact from some combination of rising freight costs, congestion at ports both in the U.S. and worldwide, and Covid-related closures across Vietnamese factories and Chinese ports. Nike even downgraded its own full-year guidance in the wake of its Vietnam facility closures, despite the sky-high consumer demand.

“These delays are extremely disappointing during the high-stakes holiday gifting season. This proves why brands must manage expectations and communicate proactively throughout each experience,” said Tobias Buxhoidt, co-founder and CEO of ParcelLab, a post-purchase operations and communications platform provider. “Our goal is to help retailers communicate effectively during shipping, delivery and returns. We help brands manage expectations by creating amazing customer experiences that are seamless and joyful.”

That said, ParcelLab said 5 percent of the 1,163 U.S. shoppers studied are already finished with their holiday shopping, while another 12 percent say they will be done by Halloween.

One-third (33 percent) of consumers say they will be done by Cyber Monday, illustrating that retailers may have a shorter window to leverage e-commerce technology solutions to personalize the fulfillment and returns processes. With 71 percent of consumers indicating they will be shopping the same or more online during the 2021 holiday shopping season, the potential for shipping mishaps only increases.

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Not everyone shares the concerns of shoppers getting a head start on their holiday shopping. Twenty-five percent of consumers still plan to do their shopping last minute.

When conducting its research for the Holiday 2021: Consumer Preferences and Expectations report, ParcelLab sought to discover what made U.S. consumers tick during the pandemic-driven 2020 holiday season and to gauge their expectations for the upcoming season.

What the platform provider found was that customers look for solutions or turn elsewhere when delays or other unpleasant issues occur—34 percent mentioned contacting customer service, which is extremely expensive and a large burden for retailers. And almost one in four U.S. consumers (23 percent) are unwilling to order from a retailer again after a negative delivery experience.

Following last year’s frustrations, retailers have a lot of ground to make up. In 2020, 33 percent of consumers were frustrated hoping everything arrived on time, while 18 percent of consumers said some packages never arrived. As many as 28 percent of consumers received inaccurate notifications about their order, and nearly 23 percent received incorrect items last holiday season. These experiences left a poor taste in these shoppers’ mouth, with 17 percent of consumers noting they wrote a negative review or comment online.

Consumers want communication on delays, returns

ParcelLab, which works with companies like Farfetch, Puma, Berlin Brands Group and Fashionette, monitors more than 3 million shipments across more than 150 carriers worldwide. The platform seeks to mitigate the issues that occur in the post-purchase communications process, leveraging complex operational data so retailers can deliver branded, transparent engagement with shoppers. That way, consumers can not only track their parcel, but learn about delays in real time and communicate directly on the returns process.

A recent data pull of ParcelLab’s top 50 DTC clients finds that brands are averaging 148 percent growth in open rates for shipping confirmations. These messages typically include personalized recommendations and more relevant information; 26 percent of customers want how-to guides, while 20 percent want information on how to recycle packaging and 24 percent want more information about a brand’s loyalty programs.

Additionally, 32 percent of consumers want regular updates on where a return is and 45 percent want a notification when the return arrives at the warehouse. Half of consumers want updates on when the return is expected to be processed and when the refund will be received.

Another 45 percent said they would rather return an item directly to the store to avoid dealing with return shipping, further incentivizing retailers to remove barriers associated with the process.

“Following last year, the 2021 holiday shopping season will certainly be challenging,” Buxhoidt said. “A key opportunity from our report this year is that retailers must communicate with their customers throughout the journey—whether that will be a delay or other issue or creating a better returns experience to improve the customer relationship—harnessing these touch points will build trust and loyalty for 2022 and beyond.”