Survey Finds COVID-19’s Impact on Consumer Holiday Shopping Behaviors Will Strain Distribution Operations

The survey results indicate significant changes in consumer intentions – such as plans to purchase small, difficult-to-pick-and-pack stocking stuffer items online.

Stock Labeling Distribution Center
Getty Images

Voxware surveyed 500 U.S. consumers in early June to gauge how holiday shopping behaviors may be altered due to COVID-19 concerns. The survey results indicate significant changes in consumer intentions – such as plans to purchase small, difficult-to-pick-and-pack stocking stuffer items online – which will challenge supply chain operations. As a result, ill-prepared distribution centers will struggle to meet consumer expectations in what is expected to be a make-or-break buying season.

Key survey findings include:

·        51% of respondents expect to begin holiday shopping earlier than normal this year

·         57% of respondents plan to have more gifts shipped directly to recipients than last year

·         76% of respondents intend to purchase more than half of their gifts online

·         62% of respondents plan to purchase more stocking stuffers and last-minute gifts online

These reactions are indicative of consumers’ desire to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by limiting time spent in physical retail locations and highlight the increased role that e-commerce will play in 2020. Safety concerns are undoubtedly compounded by the challenges consumers faced trying to obtain scarce products or delays in receiving products that were in stock but deprioritized for distribution at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

New expectations present serious challenges for promoting products, inventory stocking and cost-effectively selecting and fulfilling orders.

Distribution centers accustomed to sending one shipment per order will increasingly be expected to ship items within a single order to multiple addresses. They must also strategize the most efficient way to pick and pack small items at the apex of the holiday season. COVID-19-driven behaviors require rethinking how to optimize item selection, order sorting, label printing, packing order confirmation forms and boxing – not to mention how to handle gift wrapping services.

“Those who oversee distribution operations are going to have to think differently this year to meet consumer expectations,” said Keith Phillips, President and CEO of Voxware. “Automation will be critical and companies that have not taken the initiative to optimize their distribution centers will struggle to deliver a flawless customer experience.”

“While the holiday season is always an important time of year for every retailer, this year the magnitude is more critical than ever. For many retailers, survival will rely on a successful 2020 holiday season due to the tremendous slowdown retailers faced during the pandemic,” reminds Phillips. “In Voxware’s previous holiday survey, 31% of respondents said they would avoid shopping with a retailer ever again if any aspect of their holiday order was botched. No retailer can afford that type of mistake this year.”

Latest