Retailers May Have Leeway with Consumers this Holiday Season: Report

The fourth annual holiday survey from Convey shows consumers are planning to shop earlier and give retailers extra time to deliver packages in exchange for free shipping, timing transparency and flexible fulfillment.

Mariusz Blach Online Holiday Shopping
Mariusz Blach

As retailers brace for what is shaping up to be a holiday season like no other, they face a whole new set of challenges to win customers and meet seasonal demands in the midst of a global pandemic. To help brands navigate this complex new landscape, Delivery Experience Management (DEM) leader Convey today announced the results of its fourth annual study that illuminates the trends and themes that will define the shopping experience this holiday.

The survey found that a significant portion of shoppers recognize the uncertainty that retailers face and are willing to give them some latitude – but in exchange, they want free shipping, clear communication and delivery promises to be kept. Key findings from the survey of more than 1,600 U.S. shoppers include:

COVID Impact on Holiday Shopping 

Even as most stores across the country have reopened, the impact of the global pandemic will continue to be felt. Shoppers are planning to shop earlier and mostly online, and they're conscious of COVID's impact on retailers – even if they aren't willing to commit their dollars accordingly.

  • Nearly 4 in 10 consumers (39%) will start holiday shopping earlier this year, while 44% say COVID will have no impact on when they begin their gift-buying.
  • 8 in 10 shoppers (82%) will do most of their holiday shopping online – and nearly 1 in 3 (30%) will do ALL of it online.
  • 2 in 3 (66%) say it’s important to support local retailers who have been negatively impacted by COVID. This is a significant decline from April when 87% said it was important or very important to support local retailers.
  • Yet when asked which retailers they are most likely to buy from during the holiday, only 13% said they would shop either locally or with specialty chains. 

Amazon Momentum Grows

During shelter-in-place orders this spring, consumers learned how to buy everything from groceries to clothing to furniture online – and in many cases, that meant shopping at Amazon. Heading into the holiday season, the online giant is poised to dominate like never before, despite some consumers' misgivings about its impact on retail as a whole.

  • Amazon is the number one choice for holiday shopping with 61% of respondents planning to shop there this holiday.
  • A distant second choice are big box retailers (Walmart, Target and Best Buy), where 16% of respondents plan to find gifts.
  • Negative sentiment for Amazon is growing, with 3 in 10 consumers (31%) saying Amazon has a negative impact on retail – up from 24% who said the same thing in January 2020.
  • Yet among shoppers who have a negative opinion of Amazon, nearly half (46%) admit they will shop there anyway during the holiday.  

Longer Delivery Windows

Given the challenges 2020 has posed so far, consumers are willing to grant retailers breathing room when it comes to delivering gifts – but sellers must be clear about timing, communicate about order status, and provide fulfillment alternatives.

  • 9 in 10 shoppers (89%) are willing to give retailers extra time to deliver packages this holiday season. Three quarters (74%) are willing to grant sellers one to four extra days, while 15% are willing to wait five or more additional days for delivery.
  • However, shipping must be free. According to shoppers, the top three most important delivery services are: free 2-day shipping (44%); free shipping on returns (18%); and the ability to track packages en route (14%). 
  • Outside of free shipping, curbside or store pick-up is important to 13% of respondents, and that number grows to 18% for those planning to shop earlier due to COVID-19.
  • Clarity around delivery dates is also important, with the majority of shoppers (58%) saying they are more likely to complete a purchase if the Estimated Delivery Date (EDD) is visible in the cart prior to starting the checkout process. 

Once Set, Shipping Expectations Must Be Met  

Even as consumers are willing to grant leeway for package delivery, they're also nervous about getting gifts under the tree on time. Retailers need to stick with whatever extended timeline they establish, or risk complaints and dwindling loyalty.

  • 9 in 10 shoppers (89%) say that on-time delivery is important to overall online shopping experience - up from 84% who said the same last year.
  • 7 in 10 (68%) say they won’t shop with a brand again after a poor delivery experience.
  • The top 3 concerns with shipping this holiday: 42% are worried the package will be late; 17% are worried the package will be stolen from the porch; and 16% worry the price of shipping is too high.
  • When a package is late, 1 in 5 blame the retailer (19%) – and that number rises to 1 in 4 (25%) for consumers who plan to do all their holiday shopping online.  

“Between astronomical increases in online orders, unpredictable supply chains and worrisome delivery delays, retailers are facing an extraordinary holiday season,” said Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, Chief Growth Officer at Convey. “Our fourth annual survey helps retailers understand where to focus, and given consumers’ overwhelming reliance on online shopping this year, it’s no surprise that shipping once again tops the list. The good news is that consumers are willing to give retailers a few extra days to deliver items. In exchange, they are looking for free delivery with complete transparency around arrival dates. Retailers who can keep their delivery promises through this most challenging of retail seasons stand to earn loyal customers and thrive.”