Consumer Expectations are Changing: A Look Back at Holiday Shopping 2021

Shopping for the holidays in the 2020s is different from shopping in yesteryear. With impacts like a global pandemic ushering in the decade alongside broken supply chains incurring massive delays, consumer habits have evolved to meet the times. Today’s holiday shopper expects a lot from retailers, both online and at brick-and-mortar locations.

Considering most shoppers now turn to the internet to complete their holiday gift purchases, online retailers are feeling the pressure of these changing demands while most in-person retail locations are delving into omnichannel strategies in a bid to keep up.

Many of the most pressing concerns for holiday consumers are related to shipping. In a year when even infrastructure logistics providers such as the USPS have expanded their guaranteed delivery timeframes, retailers are facing many challenges related to consumers and meeting their expectations through the holiday season.

Here’s a look at the results of a survey conducted on behalf of ShipEngine that collectively provide a deeper look at consumer expectations and how they’re changing.

More Time Behind a Screen Than at the Mall

While fears continue to compound about COVID-19 and its variants, many consumers are opting to stay far away from common hotspots such as shopping malls. While holiday shopping, especially on days like Black Friday, has become somewhat of a tradition, modern consumers are foregoing these gatherings in favor of purchasing gifts online from the comfort and safety of their homes. 

By using a platform like ShipEngine, retailers can make the transition to online sales. Or, if they already sell online, they can optimize their online presence to create the ultimate buyer’s experience based on the factors that matter most to modern shoppers.

Create a Buffer Period to Soothe Customer Concerns

Last-minute anxiety about whether or not a package will arrive in time for holiday celebrations is a concern that shoppers want to avoid. Whenever possible, consumers expect to have a buffer period that leaves a cushion for unexpected circumstances. 

According to the survey commissioned by ShipEngine, 31% of consumers say packages should arrive at least 2 weeks before holidays, and another 37% say packages should arrive more than 2 weeks before the holidays. Only 5% of consumers would be satisfied if their packages arrived by the day of the holiday.

Buyers are willing to pay to guarantee that an item will arrive on time. Half of consumers surveyed were willing to pay up to $20 for a same-day delivery service. Consumers were also willing to pay, on average, a maximum of $86 for expedited shipping to deliver last-minute holiday packages.

Online retailers that use only a limited number of carriers can’t always guarantee last-minute delivery. ShipEngine connects to more than 100 carriers around the world, empowering users to shop for the best rates and fastest delivery times across myriad carrier options.

Transparency is Vital to a Good Customer Experience

Today’s holiday shopper thrives on information. The expectation of transparency pervades the idea of a good customer experience. Customers expect clear, transparent shipping data delivered across multiple channels, and most consumers check this information often as the holidays draw nearer.

Nearly half (45%) of consumers said that they consider tracking options before purchasing products online, and 4 in 10 users check their email for tracking data daily. Another 32% check email for tracking information at least 2–3 times per week. This is because 86% of consumers are concerned about getting their packages in time for the holidays.

ShipEngine’s tracking capabilities let retailers and their customers know where shipments are located at any given time. Our users can configure real-time tracking updates to create transparency internally and transparency for buyers. 

The Best Things in Life are Free (and Transparent)

While consumers may be willing to pay extra for same-day delivery and expedited shipping fees for last-minute gifts, the best price for shipping remains $0. Consumers expect free shipping year-round, but they are especially adamant about it during the busy holiday shopping season. Many online retailers find success in combining shipping costs into item prices rather than creating friction by presenting shipping costs independently at checkout. Amazon Prime and its free, fast shipping places significant pressure on retailers to also provide similarly free and fast shipping options.

Nearly all customers — 9 out of 10 — are more likely to shop with brands that offer free shipping over the holidays. And 79% of consumers consider shipping costs prior to making an online purchase. 

ShipEngine offers pre-negotiated discounts through some of its carriers that help retailers save. Your business can pass along those savings to customers, providing them with a fast-and-free experience that closely matches modern-day expectations.

If for some reason a company can’t provide free shipping, 88% of consumers expect full transparency into shipping policies and timelines. If an estimated shipping date isn’t shown on the checkout page, 81% of holiday shoppers will refuse to make a purchase.

Not just any update will do either; 9 in 10 respondents expect branded updates via email and 7 in 10 expect branded updates via SMS.

Returns Should Be Easy

More than half of consumers expect to make a return this season — 63%. Nearly a quarter (23%) tend to return 10% or more of the gifts they receive over the holidays. That’s why it is so important for retailers to have returns support readily available during the holidays. 

Again, ShipEngine can help your ecommerce business create a returns experience that closely matches consumer expectations. Use ShipEngine to create a returns portal that automates workflows and delights customers.

Omnichannel Ecommerce is No Longer a Stopgap — it’s an Expectation

Many retailers implemented omnichannel ecommerce strategies as a stopgap response to COVID-19 and social distancing requirements. But customers have decided that they like omnichannel — and that they would like to have multiple pickup options in perpetuity. About 63% of consumers were more likely to buy online and pick up in-store this year than last. About 47% of consumers were more likely to use locker pickups this year than last, and another 57% were more likely to use curbside pickup options.

Some of ShipEngine’s users are already using our platform to create true omnichannel ecommerce experiences. Retailers are using ShipEngine to manage buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) programs, as well as ship-to, same-day and local-delivery programs.

Be Ready to Meet Consumer Expectations in 2022

Believe it or not, the 2022 holiday season will be here before you know it. Now is the time to make plans to closely match consumer expectations this year and especially during peak season in November and December.

ShipEngine is the platform of choice for world-class shipping and logistics. Use our technology to create the perfect system for meeting customer expectations and generating repeat business. Start a free trial to explore what ShipEngine can do for you, or contact us to speak to one of our shipping and ecommerce experts.

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