Holiday sales this season are expected to be the highest in history, but with consumers having a plethora of brick and mortar and e-tailers to choose from, understanding and addressing consumer expectations is key to capitalizing on this season’s anticipated success. To give retailers the insights they need to fine-tune their strategies and put their best foot forward, Radial and CFI Group conducted a survey of 500 consumers to ask them about their holiday shopping expectations in three core areas: ordering, fulfillment, delivery and customer service.
Aligning Order Management & Cross-Chain Inventory
76% of shoppers would abandon a purchase and shop another retailer if they discovered that a product was out-of-stock or backordered. They also would be less likely to visit the store or e-commerce site again. With this in mind, retailers need to have a strong supply chain system in place that can rapidly adapt to sudden order influxes as shoppers will not hesitate to take their business elsewhere. To ensure your inventory is ready to meet demand, look back at prior holiday demands levels and make inventory adjustments by forecasting which items are anticipated to be top sellers. Another critical element of the order process to be be addressed is credit card security. While consumers value retailers with strong identity theft protection practices in place, you should conduct testing to ensure that your systems are working intelligently, as wrongfully denied transactions due to mistaken identity fraud result in forever lost customer business.
Increasing Fulfillment & Delivery Options
Fewer consumers are willing to spend more to get fast and free shipping. 97% of shoppers said they expect free shipping, but only 65% are willing to spend more to qualify for it, compared to 91% of consumers surveyed last year who said they were willing to spend more. Retailers need to find ways to cost-effectively address consumers’ expectations for free shipping without sacrificing speed of delivery or their own margins. One solution is offering alternative delivery options. The survey uncovered that 68% of consumers would choose an alternative delivery option, such as shipping from a regional store or in-store pickup to avoid shipping fees. This evidences that alternative shopping offers retailers the ability to offer free shipping without requiring the customer to spend more.
Expanding Self-Service Channels
While consumers expect prompt responses and resolutions to their inquiries, at they same time they are embracing self-service options. Phone calls still lead the way as the preferred contact method for 43% of holiday shoppers, but 58% of respondents said they are willing to try self-service first, a large jump from last year. In addition to phone and self-service for fielding order inquiries, 43% responded that they would choose live chat to get a faster response, compared to 25% last year. Retailers would be smart to add or optimize their virtual chat capabilities before the season sets into high-gear.
While self-service and live chat are emerging as the preferred methods of customer service, it’s important for retailers to leverage alternative communication options to meet individual channel preferences. For example, a growing number of retailers are integrating mobile-optimized interactive voice response (IVR) as well as visual IVR, which seamlessly transfers inbound callers to a web-based support experience in order to reduce call times and volumes while allowing the consumer to self troubleshoot.
With the holiday season accounting for 20-30% of all annual retail sales, today’s retailers know there’s a lot at stake. It only takes one out-of-stock product to lose a sale, or one late delivery to lose a customer. Consumers won’t hesitate to shop elsewhere when they have a bad experience, and there are plenty of other options to do so. The retailers and CPGs that will be most successful this holiday season will have taken the time to fully examine the buying preferences and expectations of America’s shoppers, most especially, the desire for low-cost shipping options that don’t impact speed and self-directed customer service options.