Online retailers are urging consumers to begin their holiday shopping as early as they can and merchants are incentivizing shoppers with deep discounts and early Black Friday deals in droves.
Of the top 50 online retailers that Digital Commerce 360 ranks in its Top 1000, 78% of them are offering a Black Friday deal on Monday, Nov. 23, four days before Black Friday, according to a check by Digital Commerce 360 editors. Merchants have homepage banners that “Black Friday is on” or “Black Friday Starts Now” or “Black Friday Weeks Deals Going On Now” among other similar messages touting deep discounts, such as 80% off.
Only 11 of the top 50 merchants were not offering a Black Friday deal on Nov. 23. Even the largest U.S. online retailer, Amazon.com Inc., is offering Black Friday deals days before the actual date. Amazon launched its holiday shopping landing page on its site in mid-October, about three weeks earlier than usual, according to Bloomberg News.
While merchants typically try to get consumers to shop early for the holiday season, the urgency is more real this year, when many retailers are struggling to full online orders in a timely way. The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent online shopping boom has pushed online retailers’ and shipping carriers’ operations to the maximum.
VF Corp.’s The North Face—which is offering 30% off for its Black Friday deal on Nov. 23—puts the issue bluntly on its homepage, telling consumers shopping early is a must to avoid delays: “Best way to get gifts on time? Shop early. This year, shopping early is a must. Get first pick of gear (and avoid shipping delays) by ordering ASAP.”
Throughout November, merchants alerted shoppers with similar messages on their homepages, through emails or even in holiday gift guide catalogs mailed to shoppers’ homes. Shutterfly Inc. (No. 51), for example, tells shoppers on its homepage that it cannot guarantee delivery dates. On Nov. 16, UncommonGoods LLC (No. 879) also alerts shoppers on its homepage to order today to guarantee on-time delivery. And on Nov. 11, Pottery Barn (owned by Williams-Sonoma No. 25) emailed its shoppers urging them to shop early.
Experts predict even Amazon will struggle to fulfill the surging orders during the holiday season. “It’s very clear there’s just not enough fulfillment capacity,” Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of Marketplace Pulse, a New York research firm that monitors Amazon’s site, tells Bloomberg News. This is despite the fact that Amazon hired more than 250,000 warehouse workers this year, pledged to add an additional 100,000 seasonal workers and, according to logistics consulting firm MWPVL International Inc., has been opening an average of one shipping facility a day.
The shipping surges—and delays—are real. In an October 2020 survey of 704 small ecommerce merchants, 58% said they had more package delays this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data based on merchants that use Shippo’s ecommerce fulfillment management platform. Merchants sell across categories including cosmetic, apparel, food products, office supplies, sporting equipment, hobbies items and the largest share selling specialty items.
Some of the strain in fulfillment is getting the package out of the warehouse before it even gets to the carrier. In the Shippo study, only 43% of merchants say they fulfill an order and alert a shopper that the shipment is on its way within 24 hours of purchase, which is down 45.8% from Shippo’s 2019 study.
New data from last-mile technology vendor Convey shows that ecommerce shipment volume continues to outpace 2019’s volume each month, with ecommerce shipments up 16.9% year over year in October 2020.
The second quarter of the year had the most sizable year-over-year increases in shipment volumes, as that was during the early onset of the pandemic and many physical stores were closed, says Carson Krieg, co-founder and director of strategic partnerships at Convey.
“That surge wasn’t expected to be sustainable as a lot of the demand was for stockpiling–and also because many people couldn’t physically go into stores,” Krieg says.
With less of a surge, shipping carriers delivered more orders on-time in the third quarter compared with Q2, with the percent of packages that arrive on time improving each month, according to Convey.
Most recently, Convey reports that 82% of online order packages in October arrived on or before the date the carrier promised. Although an improvement from June, when 71% of packages were on time—the lowest recorded month—2020’s on-time package delivery still lags 2019’s.