How to Cater to Consumer Demands During the Holidays

Shopping—both as a merchant and a customer—has become more complex, competitive, and personal. And never has that been more true than in 2020.

The global coronavirus pandemic has transformed retail. Brick-and-mortar and online retailers, alike, have faced numerous simultaneous hardships that they never thought they’d have to encounter—physical store closures, reduced staff, excess or limited inventory, supply chain constraints, shipping and logistics delays, increased online competition, and much more.

The pandemic has also reshaped economies, labor forces, and how people shop worldwide.

More than ever, people took to the internet in 2020 to make purchases as stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines emerged. As a result, 2020 is projected to be the largest year ever in ecommerce. According to a ShipStation study, online shopping increased by 33% this year. 

Due to COVID-19, 64% of consumers doing the majority of their shopping online. As a result, ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores have to be ready for changing consumer demand and expectations. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind over the holidays.

  • Be available where your customers want to make their purchase
  • Sell the products they want to buy at a price they’re willing to pay
  • Provide outstanding customer service

Even with these basic principles, though, online retailers still need a strategy and a game plan to stand out, be relevant, and drive success during the busiest and most competitive shopping time of the year—the holidays.

From Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday last year, more than 190 million Americans shopped either in stores or online, according to the National Retail Federation.

With the virus still surging across the country, there are fewer opportunities to shop at physical retailers. And as public health experts advise us to brace for more cases, many consumers are likely to make the bulk of their holiday purchases online.

As you prepare your online store for the unique 2020 holiday season, you’ll have to optimize a variety of things: your website, product assortment, promotional offers, and most importantly fulfillment options.

How the Pandemic Has Reshaped Consumer Expectations 

Even though online shopping continues to outpace projected growth, consumers have become more forgiving in a couple of areas that also tend to increase with ecommerce growth. In 2020, online shoppers were willing to wait longer for shipments and they were also willing to pay more for express shipments. However, with this more forgiving nature, your customers also expect greater clarity into shipping and supply chain delays. This is why effective and empathetic communication can be the difference between a bad review and a new long-term customer

8 Days is the Expected Delivery Timeframe Customers are willing to wait 8 days between placing an order and receiving it. This is up from 5 days in 2019.

Shipping Speed and Cost Are Still Important

While customers are willing to wait longer for their orders, they do still shop around for the best deals and quickest shipping options. Be mindful that customers are increasingly shopping around for rates even as their expectations have become more forgiving.

86% of consumers say a poor shipping experience negatively impacts their perception of the retailer.

96% agree that fast and honest updates regarding a shipping issue make them less likely to be upset about shipping delays or have a lasting negative perception of the brand.

Returns 

Returns have become trickier than ever before during the COVID-19 pandemic. As shopping in brick-and-mortar stores has dropped, returns have become even less common. In fact, many stores are temporarily halting returns due to fears of spreading COVID-19. However, many online retailers still accept returned merchandise and consumers expect them to. And while consumers have largely decreased return volume, online retailers are going to face the brunt of returned merchandise. 

60% factor the costs of returns into buying decisions more than they did pre-COVID.

66% prefer contactless returns such as mailbox drop-off or porch pickup as they are unlikely to complete returns in-store for the foreseeable future.

Make Shipping Memorable

Shipping is ideally the last interaction we have with customers. As such, shipping is a powerful tool for converting one-time buyers into long-term customers. We’ve seen how shipping can tarnish the buying experience. But a positive shipping experience can do wonders for your business. Staying on top of your shipping game and effectively communicating with your customers can elevate your brand to the highest degree. 

60% say retailers offering discount codes for future purchases encourages them to shop again. 

96% agree that fast and honest updates regarding a shipping issue make them less likely to be upset about shipping delays or have a lasting negative perception of the brand.

How to Win Over Customers

Your shipping strategies directly impact consumer satisfaction and their decision to purchase again in the future. However, consumers don’t always separate carrier function from your brand’s function. To the customers’ point, it’s all behind-the-scenes to them. The customers’ concern is that their package safely reaches them. Admittedly, shipping can be nerve-wracking — for customers and merchants alike.

Provide a variety of shipping options 

As we’ve gone over earlier, there are a variety of customer expectations around shipping costs and estimated delivery times. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach or inundating your customers with too many shipping options, offer two or three shipping options. 

  • Free Shipping
  • Flat-Rate Shipping
  • Express Shipping 

Offer Hassle-Free Returns 

Make returns easy. Returns are a zero-sum game for both customers and merchants. However, mastering returns can increase customer satisfaction and contribute to long-term customer loyalty. Instead of requiring customers to call into a support line or wait around for you to send an email with next steps, allow customers to initiate returns in the same way that orders are placed. Make the process easier by offering automated returns through return portals on your website or including pay-on-use return labels with the outgoing package.

To learn more about consumer expectations, check out the full ebook on the study, which includes additional data points on ways retailers can level-up their shipping strategies.