2020 has been an extraordinary year for brands and retailers. COVID-19 has accelerated the channel shift from in-store purchases to ecommerce, leading many companies to rapidly adopt and upgrade their digital capabilities, while others were ill-prepared. For both, the upcoming holiday super peak will prove an important stress test.
A holiday peak stacked on a pandemic
Over the past decade, the start of the peak holiday shopping season has crept earlier and earlier in the calendar year, as retailers grasped for an advantage by starting their promotions sooner than their competitors. It is now commonplace for families to begin seeking holiday deals in October, and to shop both online and in stores throughout the entire Thanksgiving weekend.
This year, the starting gun to holiday shopping season fired even earlier, in mid-October, during Amazon’s COVID-delayed Prime Day. Numerous competitors ran front-page promotions aimed at taking a bite out of Amazon’s annual tentpole event.
Due to this year’s protracted shopping season, you might expect that it would make for a relatively smooth holiday experience for customers. But 2020 is no ordinary year. Ecommerce volume has maintained “normal” peak holiday volumes since the spring due to the pandemic.
Add the fourth quarter holiday spike on top and the industry is primed for a “super peak” that could stress even the most prepared ecommerce supply chains and customer support infrastructure. Take a look at eMarketer’s November and December online sales projections:
Ecommerce is expected to grow at more than double last year’s rate, and each of “Cyber 5” shopping days in November are primed for more than 35% year-over-year growth.
So what’s the issue?
Behold the shipageddon*
The problem comes down to simple supply and demand. Many more purchases will be made online than the combined shipping infrastructure can handle.
An estimated may not be delivered on time according to the Wall Street Journal, leading to what industry observers are referring to as “” — and the potential for millions of unhappy customers:
Considerations for retailers
Even if these forecasts are off by 50%, it will still drive a spike in call volume and customer inquiries. So what steps can you take to prepare? Here are some tips to get you started:
- Communicate with customers early and often. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be early and upfront with your messaging to customers to ensure they are informed and prepared. If you have published holiday shipping cutoff dates, make sure they are highly visible or consider linking to similar messages from your carriers, such as this news release from the USPS.
- Promote self-service options front-and-center. The same goes for self-service. Mitigate spikes in call volume and reduce waiting times by empowering customers to help themselves. If you haven’t already invested in intelligent, conversational self-service, consider it for 2021.
- Ensure omnichannel is ready for the spotlight. Shoppers increasingly want to communicate via digital channels to have their issues resolved quickly without a voice interaction. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, companies already experienced an average of 1.5 million customer conversations a year through digital channels — a number that is only expected to grow in the coming months.
- Promote last-minute shipping alternatives. Because shipping cutoffs are earlier this year, if you have the ability to provide buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) or curbside pickup options, make sure your customers are aware of it. Create a coordinated plan for when your associates should begin to steer the last-minute shoppers to these fulfillment options.
* Shipageddon: a term popularized in 2020 by Channel Advisor co-founder Scott Wingo, and Publicis’ Jason Goldberg.