Can you get it to me in time for Christmas? is a common question from buyers fielded by online merchants this time of year. Over the weekend, online discussion boards filled with sellers reporting expedited delivery requests from holiday shoppers – but the requests came with no expectation of having to pay more for speedier delivery. There are also reports of an increase in late and missing packages this year. Some sellers speculated massive cost-cutting at the USPS might be to blame.
Somewhat ironically, shoppers turn to online sellers when their local stores have run out of stock, even though stores’ cutoff times come first, as a seller pointed out.
Large retailers are helping to set high expectations that for smaller sellers are unrealistic: eBay Enterprise, which handles online shipping for large chain stores including Toys R Us, told the Wall Street Journal that customers will be able to order gifts as late as 11 pm on December 23, a full 24 hours later than last year.
So what are some of the strategies online merchants, including eBay and Amazon sellers, are employing?
Some merchants will upgrade shipping and eat the costs, usually on a case-by-case basis depending on the selling price of the item or the difference in cost between standard and expedited, or depending on how much margin they have to work with. Some merchants will even do this proactively in the final days leading up to December 25th.
Some merchants politely tell the shopper they can’t upgrade their shipping service without charging for the extra cost.
One seller said she calls buyers who request delivery by Christmas but haven’t selected a more costly, expedited shipping method, and explains what options they have.
Other problems sellers say they are dealing with include:
- incomplete or invalid mailing address;
- seemingly fictional names on orders;
- reports of lost or damaged packages.
Interestingly, now that the USPS offers tracking on more packages (and up to 11 scans), some buyers worry when they don’t see any scans after the mail date. One seller explained to a buyer that the lack of a scan on a USPS package is common and is not a sign of trouble. However, he did say packages were taking longer to get to their destination these days than usual.
A thread on the eBay boards called “Really Disappointed in the USPS this year!!” complained of this very issue. “It seems like the Post Office has really dropped the ball this year. I’ve had more trouble in the last 4 weeks than I’ve had the last 10 years.”
Despite this, another thread discussed gift-giving to valued postal employees with suggested tips on how best to leave tips and gifts.
And media, fraud experts and law enforcement agencies have been increasingly warning online shoppers to be on the alert for thieves who make a practice of following UPS trucks and stealing packages from the porches and front stoops of recipients. Invasion of the package snatchers is a growing problem, as reported in this Boston.com article.
But for all the frustrations online sellers endure, they make take solace in remembering that brick-and-mortar counterparts don’t always have it easy either. PayPal surveyed shoppers and found when it comes to the in-store experience, a majority of respondents admitted to having witnessed some kind of bad buyer behavior, including seeing:
- Someone cut off another person in traffic (65%);
- Pushy strangers in line (56%);
- Parking in handicapped spaces when they weren’t supposed to (53%);
- Shoppers yelling at a store employee (52%).
While shoppers can “yell” in emails, at least they aren’t yelling in your face! eBay’s payments unit also found that mobile shoppers liked to shop in their pajamas (33%), like to drink alcohol while shopping (15%) – and 11% of them like to shop completely naked. That’s information perhaps better left unreported.
How are you coping with holiday shipping, and do you have any crises to report?
Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.