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How Top Online Retailers Ensured They Met the Christmas Deadline

Over the holidays, StellaService set out to test merchants when it came to delivering orders in time for Christmas, and ordered a total of 75 packages to be delivered to locations around the country. StellaService is a research firm that studies how well online retailers perform when it comes to customer service and fulfillment performance. After Christmas, it revealed the results of the study and shared some of the practices merchants used to meet the holiday deadline.

StellaService ordered products from 25 major retailers on the stated cut-off dates to receive orders by Christmas via standard shipping. The company placed three orders from each retailer to be delivered in three separate regions – East, West and Midwest.

Eight retailers (32%) failed to deliver by Christmas in at least one of the three regions. Of all 75 orders placed, 12% missed the delivery estimate. All but one of these orders were shipped using UPS, which is the preferred carrier for most of the top 25 retailers.

Table shows the delivery performance of ten of the 25 retailers studied by StellaService, Christmas 2013.

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Once a package leaves a retailer’s facility, speed of delivery is out of their hands. So how did some retailers ensure they met the Christmas deadline? StellaService told EcommerceBytes some retailers helped meet delivery deadlines by offering earlier cut-off dates and by providing swift fulfillment. In addition, some retailers automatically upgraded shipping options for customers whose orders wouldn’t arrive in time via standard shipping – it mentioned Zappos as one of the retailers who engaged in this practice.

StellaService noted that Zappos, Nordstrom and Staples provided the latest cut-off for standard shipping, December 23. It also gave a special callout to the Amazon subsidiary: “So, who saved Christmas? No surprise, customer service obsessed provided customers with the latest cutoff time (December 23) and they successfully delivered by Christmas in all three regions.”

Two retailers, Apple and Pottery Barn, changed their cut-off dates/times for standard shipping to allow shoppers more time to order products. Apple extended by a full day and Pottery Barn extended from earlier in the day to midnight. Tiger Direct provided conflicting information on their site; actually changing the date from the 20th to the 18th and back to the 20th, according to StellaService.

StellaService spends a lot of time studying retail performance, and it recently published an infographic giving a sense of how the company measures retailers. Its analysts shop online every day, and in 2013, they ordered 11,800 products and made over 100,000 calls and emails to online retailers’ customer service departments and engaged in over 26,000 live-chat interactions to track metrics such as response time, professionalism, product knowledge and issue resolution. The company noted that in 2012, its analysts waited on hold for 25 days (in aggregate) to reach a live agent on the phone. In 2013, that number nearly doubled to 49 days.

The company also offers up advice to online merchants based on the experiences of its analysts. On January 1st, it advised merchants to be careful when shipping items to avoid disasters such as one analyst experienced: “Two items of clothing and two bottles of nail polish had haphazardly been tossed in a box, and at some point in transit one of the bottles exploded, coating the inside of the box and other items with a bright pink polish.”

Its advice for merchants:

1) Isolate liquids and other breakables using padded poly bags or “jiffy” envelopes.

2) Ship these types of items separately when necessary.

3) Know your HAZMATs (hazardous materials) and the regulations around their shipment. Here’s a good reference from the U.S.P.S.

4) When choosing packaging and ship methods, consider the effects of extreme temperatures and rough handling may have on these items.

If you find ecommerce delivery data interesting such as the information provided by StellaService, you might also be interested in how well retailers performed in the area of product returns. A firm called Qubit studied ten top retail websites to see how easy it was for shoppers to find information about returns and exchanges and how easy it was to return merchandise through the websites.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to