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In light of COVID-19, consumer behaviors and expectations have changed when it comes to delivery, visibility and returns.

A new study by ShipStation reveals that the delivery experience affects not only purchase habits, but brand perception as well. The report is the company’s second annual national consumer study, which aims to discover how consumer shopping habits and shipping’s impact on brand perception has evolved.

Authors of the report note consumer expectations for transparent delivery and clear, simple returns policies are things consumers expressed demand for pre-COVID-19, however, expectations have accelerated in light of the pandemic. Still, the company’s survey found consumers have increased online shopping by 33 percent over the past year, with almost two-thirds saying that the majority of their shopping is now done online due to the pandemic.

While 84 percent of shoppers say the delivery experience stands out most in the e-commerce customer experience as it is the final touchpoint with a retailer, 80 percent of consumers believe it is ultimately the responsibility of the retailer to ensure products are delivered on time and as expected. Notably, 90 percent of consumers said a bad shipping experience negatively impacts an overall shopping experience with 87 percent of consumers saying a negative shipping experience will make them less likely to shop with that retailer again.

Further, cost and speed of shipping are becoming non-negotiables for online shoppers with 97 percent saying shipping costs are important and 92 percent saying shipping speed is important when making online buying decisions.

“It is clear from the study that delivery is an integral part of the customer-retailer experience,” said Krish Iyer, head of industry relations and strategic partnerships at ShipStation. “Customers are expecting clear delivery information, not just during checkout or with notification e-mails, but well before the purchase. It not only affects the purchase decision, but also the customer’s perception as to whether they will order from the retailer again. Delivery information has become so important that it is now expected in the listing of the product itself in order for the consumer to ultimately make their purchase decision.”

Meanwhile, Pitney Bowes’ recent BoxPoll revealed one in three consumers are concerned about retailers delivering on time this holiday season.

“There is no doubt that great order experiences such as fast delivery times, free shipping and easy returns are services that consumers find critically important,” said Gregg Zegras, executive vice president and president of global e-commerce at Pitney Bowes. “Even in a time when debates about values and beliefs significantly impact how brands market themselves, BOXpoll found that consumers also strongly value convenience.”

In fact, the company’s BoxPoll found 73 percent of consumers said they would purchase from the online retailer with the “best order experience” over a retailer that “better aligned with their values/beliefs.” And overall, more than 40 percent of consumers said free shipping is more important when making a purchase decision than sharing beliefs with a brand.

“It’s not that consumers don’t care for these values, but rather that the overall order experience — including the expense and timeliness of a delivery, the information you receive from the seller, and even the returns process — can’t be sacrificed at any cost,” said Zegras.

At the same time, 57 percent of respondents said they would choose free shipping over other order options such as fast shipping or curbside pickup. Still, the data found that consumers are slightly more forgiving than they were pre-COVID-19 and are willing to pay an average of $8 to $12 for a “fast shipping option” while lowering expectations around what fast means to less than three days.

A third report, by Scalefast, found a lack of free shipping, long delivery windows and poor tracking to be among the top factors keeping consumers from purchasing with a brand or retailer online. Additionally, a quarter of consumers told the company they are “stressed” about the 2020 holiday shopping season.

“Our research shows the prescription for easing the holiday shopper’s anxiety hinges on excellent communication supported by robust e-commerce platforms that update product availability, shipping and delivery in real-time. Sound messaging around data security, fraud prevention, and order status provide a feeling of safety,” said Olivier Schott, founder and chief marketing officer at Scalefast.

According to the company, shipping and logistics is a top concern for consumers and is a “prescription for holiday hold-ups” in purchase decision-making. In fact, 42 percent of consumers told Scalefast they would stop buying from a brand or retailer this year if no discounted or free shipping was being offered, followed by 29 percent of consumers citing long delivery windows, and 21 percent citing poor or nonexistent tracking around shipping timelines and delays.

Notably, an additional 45 percent of consumers said holiday shopping would be less stressful with a guaranteed delivery date feature, with 22 percent saying same-day delivery would result in less stress.

“Understandably, many consumers are heading into retail’s most critical shopping season feeling overwhelmed,” said Schott. “Supply-chain issues over the past few months have disrupted the entire purchasing experience and likely pushed consumers to start shopping earlier than last year. Along with the current unreliability of USPS and other carriers and safety issues stemming from the pandemic, brands and retailers have very little time to ensure there is a robust plan in place for tackling the holiday hold-ups that are piling up to stop a consumer from making a purchase.”

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