It's going to be an e-comm Christmas

Gina Acosta
Executive Editor
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The online experience is increasingly beating out the brick-and-mortar experience for many holiday shoppers, according Deloitte's 32nd Annual Holiday Survey.

According to the survey, shoppers are increasingly finding that many physical stores just don't have the assortment of product they need and that the store experience is lacking in terms of customer service. So they are turning to online shopping in droves, and forcing retailers to improve delivery times and customer service.

"It only took a few holiday seasons for people to change their expectations of retailers throughout the entire shopping journey — from search and inspiration to product variety, availability and price, to delivery and even returns," said Rod Sides, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader. "The online experience has also redefined people's expectations of the physical store. In the survey, people told us online channels outperform stores when it comes to finding unique items and products that are high-quality and ones they trust. At one time, online excelled primarily on price followed by convenience, but now, it's outpacing the store experience across all attributes during the holiday season."

These are the top expectations from consumers, according to the survey:

Convenience and selection put online channels at the top of everyone's "nice" list

  • The majority of holiday spending among survey respondents is expected to head online, with shoppers putting more than half (51 percent) of their budgets toward online purchases versus in-store (42 percent).
  • Online shopping significantly outpaces in-store in areas such as ease of searching (79 percent versus 64 percent) and product quality and trust (76 percent versus 64 percent).
  • Online shopping destinations are the No.1 preferred venue among all age groups and income levels, followed by mass merchants; differences only emerge when rounding out the top three shopping destinations. Among seniors and households earning less than $50,000, supermarkets earn the No.3 spot; Gen Z opts for fast fashion apparel retailers, while millennials choose off-price and Gen X and Boomers head to traditional department stores.


Free shipping is a favorite; Shoppers say bah-humbug to paying extra for faster delivery

  • Free or fast shipping, which is more important? Nearly 9 in 10 – 88 percent – respondents said, "free shipping" is more important compared with just 12 percent who prefer "fast shipping."
  • When defining what constitutes "fast shipping," more than half (54 percent) of holiday shoppers said two days or less. Just 35 percent consider 3-4 day shipping "fast," down from 42 percent last year and 63 percent in 2015.
  • These expectations come with a reluctance to pay more for expedited shipping: Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) say they would not be willing pay extra for two-day shipping. Respondents indicated they would pay, on average, just under four dollars ($3.80) to guarantee next-day delivery.
  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of shoppers think they should be allowed to order after Dec. 17 and still get free shipping.
  • Most (72 percent) of surveyed shoppers plan to take advantage of free shipping offers this season.


Fast and free top reasons to buy online, pick up in store

  • Roughly 4 in 10 (43 percent) of consumers surveyed plan to buy items online and pick them up in-store this holiday season – motivated primarily by "fast" and "free" once again. These shoppers cited saving on shipping charges (62 percent) as the No.1 reason to buy online and pick up in-store, followed by 48 percent who said they do so to get the item faster.
  • Home appliances (45 percent), electronics (43 percent) and clothing (43 percent) top the list of categories shoppers plan to buy online but pick up in the physical store.


After fast deliveries, consumers want many happy returns

  • People also want the security and flexibility of generous return policies. The option to return to any store location (67 percent) tops the list, followed by refund options other than store credit (63 percent).
  • Around one-half (51 percent) of survey respondents said they want a longer return window around the holidays, ranging from 30 to 90 days, and 41 percent want the option to return without a receipt.


The survey was developed by Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company Sept. 6-18, 2017. A national sample of 5,085 consumers aligned with the U.S. Census for age and income was polled which has a margin of error for the entire sample of plus or minus 1 to 2 percentage points.