Consumers doing their holiday shopping online

Consumers Expect Slower Delivery Times Yet Plan to Shop More Online This Year

Even though the 2021 holiday shopping season is off to an earlier start than ever, there’s no room for complacency. As new data becomes available, retailers must remain responsive to changing consumer behavior in order to maximize profitability.

Recently, Narvar released its 5th annual consumer study on the state of online returns, which surveyed shoppers on their return policy preferences and the role technology plays in their return behaviors.

As part of the study, we looked at how consumers plan to shop this season, and what learnings or takeaways retailers should keep in mind. What follows are three key trends to expect this holiday season. 

Consumers plan to shop online more in 2021

First, of the 1,040 U.S. shoppers surveyed by Narvar, more than half (52% in total) expect to shop online more than in-store during the 2021 holiday shopping season.

Retailers should respond by ensuring their online shopping experience is as close as possible to what consumers would find in-store. Sure, online shoppers can’t physically pick up or try on items the way they would in-store. But since issues with fit, size, or color remain the #1 reason for returns amongst shoppers surveyed by Narvar, it’s worth providing consumers with as much information as possible on your website—both to help them make better decisions with confidence and to minimize the burden of returns on your end. 

Any or all of the following options can help:

  • Highlighting customer reviews relating to fit, size, and color on your product description pages (PDPs).
  • Including as much detail and variety as possible in your product descriptions and product photos.
  • Making sure your size charts are accurate and visible.
  • Allowing shoppers to view items on a variety of models. Leveraging user-generated content can also help provide this additional context.
  • Suggesting sizes based on how shoppers fit other common brands of clothing or footwear.
  • Using augmented reality (AR) technology to help customers visualize themselves wearing or using your items.

DSW, for example, features customer images on its product pages to give shoppers a better feel for what their purchases will look like in-person.

DSW Style Inspiration to help visitors understand product fit
Image Source: DSW

M.M.LaFleur gives website visitors the ability to chat live with a stylist for help selecting the appropriate size, in addition to offering size charts and specific details on pictured models’ sizing.

M.M. LaFleur providing detailed fi instructions
Image Source: M.M.LaFleur

Consumers expect slower delivery times

Top carriers have been explicit about the challenges they’re facing, from increased demand to ongoing driver shortages. And fortunately, the message appears to have trickled down to nearly half of consumers—49% of Narvar’s survey respondents reported expecting shipping to take longer than usual this year, compared to “normal.”

But while this figure may provide some measure of relief to retailers, it’s worth noting that more than half of Narvar’s participants didn’t acknowledge longer shipping times. Explicit communication is the key to managing expectations for both groups of shoppers—even consumers who are already expecting delays will appreciate extra communication around the status of their shipments.

Here’s how you can give customers peace-of-mind (and save your support team):

  • Clearly communicate on your home page, product description pages (PDPs), FAQ page, shipping policies page, and any other key store pages that shipments are taking longer to arrive this year than in years prior.
  • Provide a calendar with “order by”/shipping cutoff dates to let shoppers know when their orders need to be placed to receive them before key holiday dates. Work with your carriers to set appropriate expectations, and consider padding your calendar with a few extra days to be on the safe side, especially since many carriers are not able to offer their usual service-level guarantees this season.
  • To the extent possible, incentivize early ordering with expanded holiday promotions, as evidenced by Amazon, Target, and other retailers. If you aren’t able to extend holiday deals to all shoppers, VIP promotions that encourage your top customers to order early can help to ensure their satisfaction with their holiday shopping experience.  
  • If you use Narvar’s Track or Notify solutions, customize your post-purchase notification touchpoints to fill in the longer fulfillment gap to reduce ‘Where is my order?’ (WISMO) inquiries on your customer service channels. We’ve found that customer inquiries go up after about 3 days of not getting a status update.

Consumers plan to shop earlier in the season

More than one-third of the consumers surveyed by Narvar plan to shop earlier this holiday season—likely in response to retail’s overwhelmed supply chains and slower delivery time predictions. 

As noted, many retailers have already adapted their promotional calendars to accommodate proactive buyers. You’ll also want to make sure you prep the post-purchase process to make sure the experience is positive for customers. For example, make sure your return policy is temporarily extended well past the end of December to allow earlier purchases to be received as gifts, tested, and potentially returned, if needed. 

To ensure you’re ready for the longer selling season, check out all of our tips for prepping your fulfillment process for early demand.

Andria Tay

Andria is Global Director of Marketing & Communications at Narvar. She grew up in entertainment at iconic brands like EMI & MTV before pivoting to ecommerce, most recently at

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