The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t changing consumers’ spending plans for this holiday season, but it will alter their shopping methods and put pressure on retailers already struggling to keep pace with growing e-commerce demands, according to a tech firm study released this month.
Pennsylvania-based omnichannel technology provider Radial surveyed 1,000 consumers across the United States about their 2020 holiday shopping plans and found that, despite the pandemic, most do not plan to change their spending significantly or shop earlier compared to 2019. The survey revealed a stronger preference for online shopping this year, however, with 66% of shoppers saying they expect to increase their online purchases this holiday season.
The results indicate that this peak season may be more hectic than ever, as pandemic-induced e-commerce preferences add to the already growing business of online holiday shopping. This will put increasing pressure on retailers that have failed to put solid omnichannel buying solutions in place, the researchers said.
“The 2020 holiday season will reward omnichannel retailers. Instead of the recurring and seasonal demand cycles retailers are used to, in the wake of Covid-19 brands must contend with consistent high demand for e-commerce year-round. This year, peak season levels essentially started in March,” Tim Hinckley, chief commercial officer for Radial, said in a statement announcing the survey results July 8. “Retailers must leverage unique strategies like using stores as fulfillment centers and creative order management techniques paired with advanced technology in order to keep deliveries flowing by embracing curbside pickup and other emerging consumer expectations.”
Radial officials put this into perspective, pointing to a 70% spike in online orders among its client network in April compared to year-ago levels, and a 218% increase in May year-over-year. Combined, they said there were a million more orders shipped in April and May compared to the 2019 peak season among its network.
Such high levels of demand will make this peak season much more challenging for many retailers, they said.
Key survey findings include:
60% of consumers plan to shop less in-store this season due to fear of Covid-19 exposure.
Despite the impact of the pandemic on delivery times, 41% of shoppers say they don’t plan to shop any earlier for holiday gifts, meaning that retailers will have no break between the current Covid-19 e-commerce climate and the already overwhelming holiday peak season rush.
39% of shoppers plan to start shopping for the holidays in October into early November, and 30% plan to start on Black Friday/Cyber Monday.
The majority of consumers surveyed plan to spend the same as last year on holiday gifts, meaning retailers should expect similar or higher order volumes as compared to previous years.
63% of shoppers say they are slightly or very much more likely to purchase from a retailer they knew was following Covid-19 safety precautions in-store.
Despite the challenges, retailers can expect some relief on the horizon as well: Although e-commerce pressures are heating up, delivery demands are easing. The survey found that just 14% of consumers expect two-day or less delivery of their holiday packages, compared to a third of consumers who deemed a two-day window acceptable two years ago. This year, half of consumers say five-day delivery is reasonable and 28% say a week is acceptable.
“This leeway in delivery expectations will allow retailers to focus on implementing practices that prioritize Covid-19 safety precautions and help them manage the influx of orders,” the researchers said.
Retailers will need to focus on managing inventory and deliveries with a strong omnichannel strategy that includes buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), and buy online, pick up at curb (BOPAC)—practices that ensure a safe transaction during Covid-19 and provide shoppers with immediate gratification and products in-hand instantly, the researchers said.
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