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Ecommerce sites are now able to keep selling closer to Christmas day, but are they being upfront about shipping timescales? 

Selling at close to the big day as possible can mean a competitive advantage, but it's important to be upfront and avoid any risk of disappointing customers. 

This information can make the difference between making the sale or not, so how well are retailers communicating this to customers? 

I've been looking at the top ten US ecommerce sites (based on the IR 500) to see how they're handling this... 

Why is this important? 

Customers have to be sure that items will arrive in time for Christmas, otherwise many will not bother to place an order, and may choose a competitor. 

Of course, retailers can't always account for the inconsistencies of the postal system, or the weather, but assuming a fair wind, they can make sure that customers know whether or not their gifts will arrive before Christmas. 

It can be a sales driver. If you can offer a speedier delivery service than your competitors, this puts you at an advantage. Also, if you can offer click and collect, customers can order right up to the last minute. 

There's also the power of urgency. If a shopper sees a message which tells them this is the last day for Christmas shipping, this may push them towards a purchase decision. 

It's good customer service to manage expectations. Shoppers will appreciate clear information. Even if you can't deliver in time for Christmas, it's better to be clear about this than risk losing customers. 

This leads me on to the next point: don't promise what you can't deliver. Even if the failed shipping is out of the retailer's control, customers will blame them, not the courier.

Amazon

Amazon has a message on the top right of the homepage, which tells customers the last shipping date. 

If you click the link, further info is provided on the various shipping options:

Staples

The Staples homepage offers no information: 

Its product pages show delivery information, but don't mention Christmas. Perhaps office supplies aren't the most popular gift, but there are cameras, laptops and so on. 

Apple

The message on the Apple store homepage is quite subtle: 

However, it links to some detailed information on how long it will take for its different products to be shipped: 

Walmart

Walmart's messaging on Christmas shipping is very clear, with the cut off dates for the different shipping options explained in a pop-up window: 

This message is reinforced on individual product pages, which explain when the item will arrive: 

Dell

Dell does have a message on the homepage, but this is just one of three items on a carousel, so it could be missed. 

Also, the information on the shopping cart page is too vague, just providing a preliminary shipping date. At this time of the year, customers need more certainty. 

Office Depot

Like Dell, Office Depot has placed the Christmas shipping information on the carousel, so it could be missed. 

However, it's a good idea to promote the 'free 1hr store pickup' option: 

Sears

Nice clear messaging on the Sears homepage:

CDW

There's nothing on the homepage about last shipping dates for Christmas, while the information on product pages is vague. I also couldn't find any shipping information in the footer. 

Without clear information, customers would be taking a risk ordering at this late stage. 

Best Buy

Though it does promote store pickup on the homepage, I couldn't find any Christmas shipping information, while delivery estimates were vague on Best Buy. 

Macy's

I like the clear messaging on the Macy's homepage, while the 'Hurry - order by 11:59' message adds a sense of urgency: 

Conclusion

There are a variety of different approaches that online retailers could take here. Since customers need to know this information before ordering, I'd favour a clear message on the homepage and reminders on product and checkout pages advising whether gifts they order will arrive in time for Christmas. 

Some of the examples here, such as Dell and Sears, are too subtle and could be missed, while CDW and Best Buy don't even provide any Christmas-specific shipping information. 

This is a risk. Not only will some customers be deterred from placing orders, but those that do may rely on the standard shipping information, which perhaps won't apply this close to Christmas. 

The key is to keep customers informed and manage expectations about shipping timescales.

Also, it's important not to make promises you can't keep. It's better not to offer late Christmas shipping at all than to let customers down.

Graham Charlton

Published 20 December, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (1)

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Marc Pearson

I think every online store should include this for holidays. So many sales are wasted, because consumers are unsure if their purchase will arrive before the date of the holiday. You have to include that these days.

almost 4 years ago

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