Retailers need to go the extra mile to close the year on a strong note. Here are the last-minute tactics that shoppers say matter to them.

As the year wraps up, I want to reflect on what 1,000 shoppers in our Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights September 2021 Holiday survey said about the most important factors in choosing an online retailer. A look at some of the last-minute approaches taken by seasoned sellers indicates that retailers are paying attention to reap the spoils before the holidays come to a close.

It’s hard to beat the headline, “Who can still deliver by Christmas?” and did I mention make it free and make it today. It doesn’t get much better than that, particularly at this time of year. Nice to see a little Merry Merry from Petco. Knowing that 66% of survey respondents select a retailer who offers “free shipping,” this approach is right in line with shopper preferences.


Money talks

As a last-minute reminder, money saving options start with free shipping but “competitive prices” play a role for 60% and it’s here where aerie gets creative. If they are on your teenager’s wish list, this is a great opportunity to purchase holiday gift cards and get a little something in return. While you’re at it, you can get 40-50% off on the collection which is always welcome at this time of year. Knowing this brand’s promotional cadence, one does not always get this deep of a discount plus an extra 10% off a purchase, so shoppers should appreciate that this is a nice holiday gesture. The retailer is smart to reinforce its in-store and curbside pickup as well, delivering the ultimate in last-minute conveniences.

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Of course, we all know that much of the free shipping comes via Though not technically free it certainly is for Amazon Prime members, who numbered 142 million in January 2021, according to CIRP-MarketWatch. Our holiday survey indicated that 52% of shoppers surveyed will make 50% or more of their purchases on Amazon. And for many of those the shipping will be free.


Nos. 3 and 4 for selecting retailers are “product in stock” at 53% and “speed of delivery” at 46%. As late as 12/20, L.L. Bean is still on the “can ship” list, serving as the perfect problem solver for outdoor enthusiasts. Like others, the retailer leverages its shipping prowess and makes it possible for shoppers to still send a gift in time for the holidays. I am also seeing a number of incoming texts from other retailers promoting free express shipping among other perks as the countdown continues.


Coach’s clever headline: “PSA: Order ASAP For Guaranteed Holiday Delivery” caught my attention for a number of reasons. As of December 19, they were still touting 4 hours left to place orders for delivery. But perhaps, it was the free shipping and returns that elevated them higher on my consideration list. With 39% of shoppers citing “free return shipping” as a reason they select a retailer, the reinforcement of this policy is particularly timely.


Athleta hits the mark with their December 20 email, despite the fact that free shipping is only available on those spending $50 or more. To sweeten last-minute shopping, the Wishlist Wrap-Up Event extends 20% off last-minute gifts. So they’ve got me thinking, I just might make a purchase for myself, as I’ve wrapped up all the others on my list. Digital Commerce 360/Bizrate Insights December Cyber-5 survey of 1,147 online shoppers found 40% of survey respondent made personal purchases along the way.


Past is prelude for last-minute shoppers

Retailers need to get it right as shopper selection (and future success) depends on it. Rounding out the top 5 when it comes to retailer selection is “past overall experiences” at 42%. One thing for sure is shoppers have long memories. One experience I remember from this year involved the leggings I purchased from Garnet Hill. When I found I had a hole in the knee just a few months after purchasing, I gave them a call. The retailer made good on the purchase. Those are the experiences that make a difference and are the quickest way to retention.


With 34% of survey respondents mentioning “quality customer service,” this must be a year-round consideration. I know for me the service and knowledge that it will be easy to make a return or exchange is top-of-mind as I want to have confidence when making purchases.

Additionally, the flexibility of a retailer’s overall return policy was seen as important to 27% of those surveyed. Zappos was early to lead the charge with their 365-day return policy. A number of others like Nordstrom matched that policy.

zappos’s customer-first mindset also shows in its promoting the option to have Free UPS pickups from your home without needing to print a label, which will surely be a valuable service. I know my daughter, as a college student, doesn’t have that convenience, so this is something that should come in handy in the coming year.

One of the exciting changes on the returns front is the ability to return them curbside. Two retailers that have embraced this option include Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nordstrom. Our survey suggested that 16% of shoppers select a retailer that has a physical store presence where items can be returned. With this new capability, one can only assume that number could go even higher.


Now is the time to seal the deal—and it’s wise to listen to the customer. That means paying attention to prices and promotions, ensuring you have the product in stock and that you can deliver orders in a timely manner. Meet all these criteria and you can wrap up the holidays on a high note with a strong lead into 2022.