Despite Shipping Challenges, Consumers Were Highly Satisfied With the Holiday Retail Experience

Holiday shopping in 2020 was disrupted by shipping delays, limited store operations and fulfilment challenges – as expected. But new data from delivery experience management company Convey found that, despite these frustrations, consumers were mostly satisfied with their shopping experience. In fact, a majority reported that this year was as good – if not better – than last year.

In a survey of over 1,000 American consumers, Convey found that the various problems that the industry had predicted ahead of the holiday season did indeed come to pass. The sharp increase in e-commerce orders led to overburdening of shipping networks, which caused delayed shipments; 57% of respondents said that they received at least one package later than promised, while 41% said that their biggest problem this holiday was that “shipping took longer than expected.”

For some, these delays had more serious ramifications: one in four consumers had at least one item arrive after Christmas, due to transit delays. Half of those surveyed were unable to purchase the items they wanted, due to the delivery estimations provided by the retailer. And although 53% utilized ‘buy online, pickup in store’ for their fulfilment option, 15% were unable to access this solution for their items and described it as a “problem”.

“Every holiday season, shipping dominates the headlines and this year was no different,” said Carson Krieg, co-founder and director of strategic partnerships at Convey. “December brought enormous surges in shipping volume and delivery delays, and more than half of American shoppers said they received at least one package later than promised.”

However, these problems were not a dealbreaker for the vast majority of consumers. Convey found that 88% of shoppers thought this year’s experience was as good or better than the 2019 holiday period, while a third believed it was better; only 13% said it was worse.

Man and woman shopping for the holidays outdoors store window
23% of shoppers said it was a problem they could not shop in-store, but e-commerce was a satisfactory alternative, found Convey.

This is due to the revised expectations of consumers, in light of the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The Convey survey found that 80% of respondents were willing to accept longer delivery times, due to COVID-19, while 76% were understanding of the reality that gifts might arrive after Christmas this year. Consumer awareness of the disruption faced by the industry also generated a lot of gratitude, with 91% saying they were thankful for the retail associates and deliver drivers working through the pandemic.

Convey’s Krieg attributes some of this understanding to the work done by retailers to communicate with their customers and provide alternatives. Although one in four shoppers said that it was a problem to not be able to shop in-store, e-commerce was a popular replacement; 33% shopped exclusively online, while 58% used a mix of on- and offline channels. As a result of this online flexibility, 82% said they felt they had a safer Christmas.

“Retailers who were transparent and communicated regularly about delays ended up with happier and more satisfied customers,” said Krieg. “Even though this holiday was turned upside down by the pandemic, retailers did a fantastic job and the end result was that shoppers were very positive about their holiday shopping experiences.”

Nevertheless, retailers should be careful not to let consumer tolerance lead to worse service. Despite their accommodation of the pandemic’s disruption, 87% of consumers still believe delivery is an important part of the shopping experience. One in five said they do not trust delivery estimates, meaning retailers may need to re-earn that faith in 2021, and 23% said they would be more selective this year in terms of which retailers they purchase from.

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