Speed, Options, And Transparency Should Guide Holiday-Season Planning

Retailers, get ahead of the holiday-season chaos and prepare your order management processes. Guide your holiday logistics planning around: 1) speed; 2) fulfillment options; and 3) transparency to create seamless and stellar experiences for your customers.

1. Speed of retail is a perpetual desire — and consistent source of disappointment — for consumers.

Why do consumers use “buy online, pick up in store” as a fulfillment option? Customers want you to help them protect their time: to avoid spending time in a store or looking for items or to ensure that the product was even available in the store in the first place. And they aren’t just looking for fast delivery anymore; they also want returns, information on product availability, and customer support answers quickly.

What has been their experience? In our research, one-third of US consumers have found that items they wanted to pick up locally were unavailable in stores near them. The same number found estimated shipping times longer than expected and even the actual time to delivery longer than expected. A quarter of those who managed to pick up items locally found that the process took longer than expected, too.

Deliver on the expectation for speed by:

  • Displaying in-store inventory availability on your website so that customers know what they can pick up right away — at the least, this will ensure that orders for pickup have adequate inventory to fulfill committed orders to avoid cancellation.
  • Minimizing delivery times — or at least managing delivery expectations accurately during the pre-purchase stage so that your customers don’t have their expectations dashed.

2. Shoppers want a variety of delivery options, depending on their current need.

Retailers ask me what top one or two delivery options “win.” The answer: There’s no one “silver bullet” option that always wins. In fact, nearly half of US customers (and more than a third in the UK) told us that they like having “lots of fulfillment options to suit my need of the moment.” Top fulfillment options that US consumers want include curbside pickup and scheduled deliveries; in the UK, it’s scheduled delivery and grocery store pickup. Eight of the remaining 11 delivery options, however, all fall within a 10-point spread in the US. It’s almost as tight in the UK.

Meet the need for fulfillment options by:

  • Providing as many fulfillment options as you can, including a free (if likely slower) shipping method, faster shipping methods, and variations on pickup and delivery (e.g., curbside, in-store, same-day).
  • Making it clear, as early in the shopping process as possible, what those options are. For instance, shoppers looking for curbside may abandon the process if they’re not sure whether “pickup” means in-store only.
  • Enabling customers to filter products by fulfillment options so that they don’t have to guess, for instance, whether the items they’re browsing are available for local pickup.

3. Savvy shoppers look for transparency from retailers — and their money follows.

Nearly two-thirds of US online consumers wish companies were more transparent about their business practices in general. Specifically, almost 70% want to know when their order will come — before they place it. Over half find order updates helpful, but 45% still wish they had more information about their orders before delivery. And if orders are delayed and retailers don’t proactively inform customers, 70% of those customers are less likely to shop with the retailers again!

As we come into a new holiday season, keep in mind the lessons of 2020. At the height of holiday deliveries last year, in some areas of the US, fewer than one-third of deliveries were on time. Although the US Postal Service and FedEx still recommend only 10 days in transit for Christmas-day delivery on ground packages, we may see these cutoffs shift earlier (or deliveries that could miss the holidays).

Be proactively transparent with your customers by:

  • Telling customers when they can expect items to arrive, as early in the shopping process as possible.
  • Accounting for picking and packing time, plus time in transit, to accurately manage expectations.
  • Being as specific as possible. General estimates (e.g., “orders arrive within 5–7 business days”) are better than nothing, but specificity (e.g., “arrives Tuesday”) is ideal.
  • Ensuring post-purchase messaging alerts customers of changes, especially delays.

If some of these adjustments are impossible for your organization in the short lead-up to this holiday season, find the small wins for now. Even incremental changes will have an impact.

Get in touch with me for help tuning the tech in your stack to tweak what you can in time for this peak season. Let’s also make sure you’re planning now for the improvements that will push you further ahead of the fray in 2022.