Convey survey takes long look at key holiday delivery challenges for retailers

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor · October 7, 2020

The “2020 Annual Consumer Survey,” which was issued this week by Austin, Texas-based Convey, a provider of delivery experience management software that helps shippers connect disparate data and processes from parcel to freight in the last mile, highlighted myriad key findings related to how holiday shoppers feel about the uncertainty retailers are up against this year and their subsequent impact on delivery expectations.

Findings for the survey were based on feedback from 1,600 United States-based consumers. The wide-ranging survey is the fourth one Convey has released, going back to 2017, and its findings can be viewed, as it was conducted and released over the course of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which Convey said has created a whole new set of challenges for retailers to win customers and also meet seasonal demands amid a global pandemic.

Not surprisingly, a major focus of the survey pertained to global e-commerce bellwether Amazon, with 61% of respondents indicating it is the number one choice for holiday shopping. But it was not all positive, with 31% saying Amazon has a negative impact on retail, representing an increase from 24% saying the same in January 2020. What’s more, for the shoppers stating they have a negative opinion of Amazon, almost half of respondents—46%—stated they still plan to shop there for this year’s holiday season.

In an interview, Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, Chief Growth Officer at Convey, explained that Convey thinks there are several reasons for the growing negative sentiment around Amazon, including their harmful impact on the environment and local retailers.

“While this particular survey didn’t ask consumers directly about their reason for citing negative sentiment, another survey we conducted in January of this year found that 27% of respondents feel very or somewhat negative about Amazon’s impact on the environment, and this is even higher among younger shoppers where 1 in 3 (35%) felt negatively about Amazon’s environmental footprint,” she said. “Many of us have experienced Amazon’s tendency to ship items separately or use excessive packaging, and that’s clearly a concern for many shoppers. We also found that following COVID, the majority of shoppers (87%) say they want to support smaller retailers who have been impacted by store closings due to the pandemic.”

Retailers’ shipping policies again were a major theme in the survey, with 89% of respondents stating that on-time delivery is important to the overall online shopping experience, marking an improvement over the reported 84% from last year’s survey.

Other shipping-focused takeaways focused on the top three concerns of holiday shipping, including: 42% are worried a package will be late; 17% are worried the package will be stolen from the porch; and 16% worry the price of shipping is too high.

And free shipping was, once again, was highlighted as a core data point, with 44% of shoppers saying free shipping was the most important delivery service, followed by free shipping on returns, at 18%, and the ability to track packages en route, at 14%.

While consumers continue to expect free shipping and returns, some parcel express experts maintain that the days of free shipping will be expiring sooner than later. When asked how both retailers and delivery providers can still maintain customer satisfaction, if free shipping eventually is not free, Newbold-Knipp said it will be a huge challenge for retailers to maintain customer satisfaction if shipping isn’t free.

“As long as Amazon and other large retailers continue to offer free shipping, often by subsidizing those costs, it will be difficult to change consumer expectations broadly,” she said. “However, retailers who are not able to offer free shipping instead need to provide options that ensure fast and reliable delivery promises pre-purchase and be prepared to proactively offer appeasements, like refunded shipping costs, if they do not meet those expectations. The minute a shopper is paying for shipping they expect delivery to go as planned or to be compensated for it. Shoppers are obviously more forgiving of shipping snafus and longer shipping timelines when they aren’t paying for it.

One bright spot for retailers this holiday she highlighted is that even though shoppers expect free shipping, the Convey survey found that nearly 9 in 10 shoppers (89%) are willing to give retailers extra time to deliver packages this holiday season, with three quarters (74%) willing to grant sellers one to four extra days, while 16% are willing to wait five or more additional days for delivery.

“This gives retailers some much needed breathing room as they head into the holidays,” she said.

A new question added to this year’s survey, which Convey intends to track in the coming years, focused on if a retailer should be blamed if a package is late, with 19% of respondents indicating that the retailer should, in fact, be blamed.

“I think regardless of where blame gets placed, consumers are more demanding of clear expectations around delivery times and timely updates,” she said. “For better or worse, the onus is on the retailer to make sure the customer has transparency—ultimately it’s the retailer who gets a call when a shopper needs to know where her package is, and if the retailer can’t provide a better answer than the shopper can get, it’s bound to leave the consumer frustrated and unsatisfied. And the stakes are high: 9 in 10 shoppers (89%) say that on-time delivery is important to overall online shopping experience, and 7 in 10 (68%) say they won’t shop with a brand again after a poor delivery experience.”

October 7, 2020