Free, fast shipping became table stakes for e-commerce prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but consumers have since adjusted their expectations. A new study by fulfilment platform Shipstation has found that consumers have increased their expected delivery timelines, are more likely to be willing to pay for fast shipping, and care more about the delivery experience than prior to March 2020.
Despite the popularity of Amazon’s well-publicized two-day shipping promise, in 2019 the average consumer was willing to wait five days between placing an order and receiving their purchase, reports Shipstation. Since the pandemic began, this has increased and the new expected delivery timeframe is 8 days. And while 79% of respondents expect delays as a result of COVID-19, 13% consider these a potentially permanent adjustment.
These relaxed expectations can create an opportunity for retailers who may otherwise struggle to compete with larger, faster shipping networks. Less focus on the speed of delivery can free up retailers to focus on improving other aspects of the experience that are within their control; much of the delivery process depends on the carriers themselves.
“Smaller retailers can use this adjusted expectation to their advantage by taking the time to enhance different aspects of the customer experience, such as implementing increased visibility pre-checkout in the order listing itself,” said Krish Iyer, head of industry relations at ShipStation. “With this new timeline, they can also offer local delivery and curbside pickup options, and prioritize having strong inventory visibility between their brick-and-mortar and online channels.”
Whereas previously customers seemed unified in their desire for both free and fast shipping, 2020 has seen customers need to choose between the two on a more regular basis. The Shipstation survey found that 47% of consumers would be likely to pay more for expedited shipping, up from 31% in 2019; 66% expect merchants to offer a slow but free delivery option too.
In order to serve all customers, regardless of preference, Iyer recommends that merchants aim to provide a range of delivery options that are clearly communicated at the point of purchase. For the time being, businesses may want to subsidize the cost of expedited shipping in order to “meet the customer halfway” but the emphasis on transparency and choice is paramount. Additional shipping tools like free return labels can also help improve that quality of service.
“Consumers are willing to pay the price to get an enhanced delivery experience, with to-the-minute tracking and promised delivery timelines,” said Iyer. “More importantly, however, consumers want these delivery timelines as an integral part of the purchase decision making, not just a passive, after-the-fact notification. Peace of mind is the priority for consumers right now.”
While pace of delivery is now more flexible, Shipstation’s survey still found that consumers care deeply about the experience of the delivery. A poor shipping experience would negatively impact a view of a retailer for 86% of consumers; 83% would be unlikely to repurchase from that merchant, although that was slightly lower than the 88% reported in 2019. However, this isn’t a death sentence – 93% would be willing to revisit a retailer if they acknowledged or rectified a poor experience.
“Over-communication is what differentiates the good from the great shipping experience,” said Iyer. “Most retailers will only conduct communication when there is a problem with the delivery or as a confirmation message. Delivery expectations and return information must be communicated well in advance of the order. If brands are able to incorporate this into the listing of the product itself before the item is even bought, it can be a real game-changer for [conversion].”