Shopper experiences over the holiday will set the tone for 2022 buying.

The 2021 holiday season is a wrap. Between COVID-19, the supply chain and delivery challenges, this is one year many retailers will wish to put behind them despite ecommerce holding its own. Once again, Digital Commerce 360, in conjunction with Bizrate Insights, conducted a post-mortem of the holidays with 1,033 online shoppers weighing in between Dec. 26, 2021, and Jan. 1, 2022.

Our goal was to understand shopper behavior during this critical selling season as well as highlight what shoppers expect in 2022. Knowing what shoppers did “more” of best tells the story of the season, so I will begin there.

61% of online shoppers continued to buy more online at Amazon.com this holiday season, while online marketplaces saw increased buying among 30% of the survey respondents. Of course, ecommerce saw heightened interest, as 55% of respondents bought more online in general during the 2021 holiday season compared with last year.

One interesting dynamic in buyer behavior was that 24% said they shopped more from a wider range of retailers compared with last year, which could be a result of expanding general interests and/or as a result of supply chain issues, which required shoppers to expand their search. Gift cards proved an important gift option in a season of out-of-stocks, as 26% of online shoppers indicated they purchased more physical cards while 12% said they purchased more digital gift cards. Mobile use will continue to grow and accounted for 26% of surveyed online shoppers who indicated making more purchases via mobile apps and 21% via the mobile web.

Another interesting side note: 8% of respondents bought more when scrolling through social media apps. This is likely targeted to a more niche audience.

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Inventory and supply chain weighed heavily on the minds of shoppers as they adapted to changing circumstances as 30% of those surveyed encountered more out-of-stocks this year compared with last year. Twenty-five percent were also forced to pay greater attention to retailers that had products in-stock. And 24% of surveyed shoppers indicated that they ordered earlier more this year compared with last year based on retailer warnings. This is one behavior that may have lasting impact and could turn into a positive for the retail community. Shoppers also may have been forced to pay full price (rather than snag a discount) as 19% said they paid full price more this year compare with list.

Shoppers took advantage of buy now pay later (BNPL), with 9% using the payment option more. And same-day delivery continues to appeal to shoppers as 8% used the service more this holiday season. What’s surprising is how few retailers offer this option despite the fact that it can make for a very loyal shopper.

Omnichannel remained a convenient option for online shoppers and maintains steady growth each year. Over the holidays, 22% completed more online orders for pickup in store while 20% increased their curbside buying. I anticipated that more than 5% would avoid physical stores due to crime, but perhaps I’m more sensitive to this given my Chicago location.

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Most shoppers encounter out-of-stocks over the holidays

Out-of-stocks defined the 2021 holiday shopping season as shoppers adjusted when they bought based on availability. It’s important to dig a little deeper into the out-of-stock situations. Not surprisingly, 37% noticed out-of-stocks on some products while 25% encountered them on the majority of the products they shopped.

Fear of out-of-stock notices for preferred items compelled 32% of shoppers to shop earlier, which surely led to a more level holiday season as shoppers shopped well before the Cyber 5 weekend. 31% said they spent more time searching specifically for in-stock items. Much of the convenience of online shopping experience was offset this year by out-of-stock concerns, leaving some shoppers frustrated at the amount of time needed to research what they wanted.

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Shoppers find promotions more limited likely due to inventory issues

With supply chain woes widely known, it is almost a given that seven in 10 shoppers found promotions more limited this holiday. Only 29% of our online shoppers disagreed. I do want to caution readers that shopping is product-dependent and where there are supply chain issues, there is likely to be a different approach to what products are worthwhile for retailers to discount—if any.

Our research indicates that shoppers were aware of promotional limitations and made a strong effort to still find products of interest despite the circumstances. Here’s how shoppers reacted to limited promotions:

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  • Spent more time hunting promotions: 28%
  • Bought only when on promotions: 23%
  • Paid full price for more products: 18%
  • Bought less merchandise: 17%

The top action, noted by 30% of respondents, was purchasing enough to reach the free shipping threshold as unconditional free shipping didn’t appear as plentiful. Unfortunately, given the circumstances and wanting certain products, 14% of online said they paid for shipping more than in the past.

Shoppers are multi-dimensional in their selection of retailers

Free shipping remains a customer favorite and is the No. 1 reason for selecting a retailer according to 64% of surveyed shoppers. The expectation is likely a result of so many shoppers using Amazon Prime. And as previously noted, finding products in stock was essential for retailer selection over the holidays, coming in a close second at a significant 57%.

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Almost half of online shoppers surveyed (48%) remember a good past experience with a retailer and make future retailer selections accordingly. 27% also keep in mind their loyalty program memberships, so it’s not surprising to see retailers place greater emphasis in this area.

Shopping fundamentals factor into those decisions as well. 36% of online shoppers cited product selection as the reason for choosing a retailer, and 12% said because the retailer offered exclusive items. Wishlists from friends and family also played a significant role, as 22% said that was the reason for choosing a merchant.

Fair pricing (45%) and appealing promotions (30%) yielded powerful responses. Another standout offering, return shipping, remains a rising customer favorite by 25%. That is a strong showing and being on par with email offers—long a customer favorite—suggests how important it has become for shoppers.

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To a lesser degree, but still notable, respondents noted that 26% of online shoppers factored in guaranteed delivery times before making a purchase, while 13% said express shipping options impacted their decisions.

From a customer service point-of-view, 21% said flexible return policies and the same number of shoppers mentioned a retailer having good customer service as considerations in their overall purchase decision.

While omnichannel has grown in scope, only 15% of shoppers noted that buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) and 12% for curbside pickup, as influencing factors. It might be that consumers have come to expect the convenient service from most of the larger store-based retailers.

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A positive note is that almost half of shoppers will return less of their online orders while 29% will return about the same and only 4% more. Nonetheless, returns remain a reality for both online shoppers and retailers. This typically means that retailers must continue to give shoppers choices in how returns are processed. Retailers also can provide better product information at point of purchase, which will also help keep return rates lower. And for those online shoppers who will be making returns, return efficiencies are welcome.

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Shopper interest in buying more online in 2022 will be predicated on in-stock products, faster delivery and attention to privacy concerns

Retailers should make supply chain improvements a top priority in 2022 for online shoppers. For 43% of respondents, that means more inventory in stock, while 25% want to see product availability across marketplaces. Just 10% hope to find a change in the assortment of products offered.

Shoppers continue to want deliveries fast. No matter the current delivery standard, it’s not surprising that 35% still cite faster delivery with a small number of shoppers noting BOPIS enhancements at 10%, while improving curbside pickup got an 8% nod.

Privacy should remain top-of-mind for retailers in 2022 as 28% of online shoppers surveyed are hoping for less tracking of their website activity/advertising.

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Shoppers, want better customer service (20%), while live chat was cited by 12%.

Shoppers want retailers to continue to improve the user experience (25%), including providing better product information and robust images. An easier, simpler checkout (24%) and improved search results (24%) were also noted as important factors. A high-functioning mobile experience was also noted by 21% of shoppers. Faster website speed (15%) and the ability to access shopping cart/stored information was listed by 13%, and 11% noted offers tailored to preferences as important.

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We inquired about how shoppers expect their store shopping will play out in 2022. We learned that online shoppers will continue to embrace online shopping at the expense of store shopping if the consumer experience and inventory level can be maintained. The majority of shoppers (51%) intend to shop about the same or less in physical stores but 30% will buy less in physical stores, which might just translate into an ecommerce win.

The 2022 shopper wishlist is based on the customer experience after a frenetic holiday season. Shoppers are hoping that the inventory they need will be easier to come by, their deliveries faster and that their shopping journey is smooth from site search to a checkout that is quick and simple. In an ideal world, the supply chain will have improved and promotions will be restored putting shoppers in the mood to kickstart their shopping early into 2022 and into the holidays.

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