2020 posed new challenges for fulfillment. Retailers had to adapt—and fast—to enhance their safety measures in warehouses, secure their merchandise for a continuous supply, keep up with an accelerated consumer appetite for online shopping, and clearly communicate delivery times, which are often longer now due to increased online shopping.

The coronavirus pandemic threw retailers’ fulfillment operations into chaos.

Many merchants faced a surge in online sales as a result of nationwide store closures, along with a decrease in efficiency because of increased safety measures. For example, warehouses are short-staffed with fewer workers picking and packing orders because of social distancing measures. These circumstances have placed a strain on retailers and carriers alike, causing delays with getting packages to shoppers’ doorsteps.

Consider these staggering changes:

  • Online sales increased 44.4% year over year in Q2 2020, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
  • Shipping carriers FedEx and UPS reported package volume increased more than 20% year over year in Q2 2020.
  • On-time deliveries steadily decreased since March 2020, according to several logistic vendors.

In fact, 51% of consumers say they had a delayed order during the COVID-19 period because of inventory or shipping issues, according to the August 2020 Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,141 online shoppers.

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But retailers are working hard to respond to the chaos. Many quickly evaluated their fulfillment options and adjusted as necessary, such as launching curbside pickup and shipping orders from stores. Within Digital Commerce 360’s Top 500, the number of retailers offering curbside pickup increased more than 500% as of August 2020, compared with the end of 2019. Retailers are also looking at alternative ways to fulfill online orders beyond the usual shipping carriers, and in some instances, turning to on-demand services like Postmates and DoorDash.

In the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Click, Ship & Return Report, our researchers tested the fulfillment operations for top online retailers with 56 ship-to-home orders and a dozen curbside orders. Our researchers found what many online retailers and consumers report: Shipments are slower this year.

Overall, 82.1% of packages arrived on time or early in Digital Commerce 360’ July 2020 ship-to-home test of 56 orders from 46 top online retailers. But even though most of the orders this year arrived on time, it took much longer for retailers to deliver our packages this year compared with last year, when measuring the days between placing the order and receiving the order. The median number of days to receive the package was 6.0 days this year, compared with 3.4 days last year in Digital Commerce 360’s test of 52 orders in July 2019. Note: Digital Commerce 360 did not select the exact same merchants each year.

Retailers were much more efficient in executing their curbside service, which was new for many of the tested retailers. The dozen merchants offered an overall good or adequate experience, with our researchers giving a median of 7.5 on a 1-10 scale of “likelihood to recommend a store” after using curbside pickup.

Several retailers especially excelled at quickly getting the product into a shopper’s car once she arrived. Nordstrom, lululemon and Dick’s Sporting Goods all delivered orders to the customer’s car in one minute after the shopper checked in. Michael’s and Joann’s did it in two minutes; Target and Lowe’s within three minutes.

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The 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Click Ship Return Report includes:

  • More than 30 charts evaluating retailers’ fulfillment practices.
  • Results from real-world tests of more than 50 orders from top online retailers and analysis on how they performed from purchase to delivery and return.
  • Results from a physical test of curbside pickup from 12 top retail chains and an analysis of their services.
  • Interviews with top executives exploring curbside pickup, buy online pick up in store and ship-from-store services.
  • Data and analysis on how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted fulfillment.
  • Data on Top 1000 retailers’ shipping policies.
  • An overview of Amazon’s fulfillment practices.
  • Analysis on why retailers are looking to fulfill orders with on-demand platforms that deliver products to shoppers’ homes within hours, such as DoorDash.
  • Exclusive survey results and analysis on consumers’ shipping and return expectations.
  • View the table of contents here.

The 2020 Click, Ship & Return Report can be downloaded now as a PDF for $399. Digital Commerce 360 Gold and Platinum Members receive a complimentary copy of this report as a part of their membership.