Shipping Cost and Speed Expectations Have Changed Because of COVID: What That Means for Small Businesses

E-commerce customers are more forgiving now than in previous years. But they still have expectations for issues like shipping costs and delays, and failing to meet them can have serious consequences for small businesses.

Those are the findings of a recent consumer report from fulfillment platform ShipStation, which examined online shopping and shipping preferences among more than 1,400 e-commerce customers. 

On the positive side, the report suggests several ways in which businesses’ shipping practices can gain them new customers and help them keep old ones. That’s particularly important as the holidays approach, with people buying from small businesses more than ever.

Customers Are More Forgiving of Delays Post-Covid, But They Still Want Good Service

79% of those who answered the survey said they expected slower delivery times as a result of COVID-19.

Just because people are patient, though, doesn’t mean they don’t care about shipping times: 37% said that speed influences their decisions more than it did in 2019.

Find a Way to Get Your Items Shipped in 8 Days or Less

Respondents told ShipStation that they expect an item to arrive 8 days after ordering it. That’s a change from 2019, before the pandemic, when they anticipated an item to arrive in 5 days.

If you have issues getting items to a customer within that more relaxed time frame, expect business to slow. 86% of people said that a negative experience with a shipper gave them a more negative view of the retailer. Surprisingly, 70% of respondents said that would still be the case even if the negative experience was the fault of the shipper rather than the retailer.

However, if you’re able to rectify the poor experience, you’ll be rewarded. 93% of respondents said they’re more likely to return to retailers in the future when they fix shipping delays and errors.

Customers Want a Choice in Shipping Cost

Obviously, people want free shipping. 66% of respondents said they want the option to have purchases shipped slower, for free.

But many also want to be able to pay for expedited shipping. 47% of respondents said they’d be willing to pay extra for express shipping. Before COVID, ShipStation found that only 31% expressed this opinion. 

However, it’s important that you don’t overload with too many choices. The report found that customers preferred having no more than two to three options.

Positive Shipping Experiences Generate Long-Term Customers

Almost 9 in 10 participants said that the shipping and delivery experience “directly impacts” their decision to shop with a retailer again.

Small business owners who can afford to be aggressive in offering coupons and other similar benefits should do so:

  • 60% said if they were offered a discount code on a future purchase, they’d be encouraged to shop again. 
  • 50% said free samples would encourage them to shop again.
  • 28% said the same regarding discount codes from friends and family.

Returns Are More Important Than Ever

Possibly because of the overall rise in online shopping, customers are putting greater stock in return policies. 67% of respondents told ShipStation they consider the ease of returns when deciding purchases more than they did a year ago. And 54% said that return policy is a “major consideration” when shopping online.

Small businesses that have a strict return policy will have to weigh the cost of returned products versus the opportunity cost of purchases that are never made because of dissuaded customers.

Communication is Crucial

Overall, the big takeaway from this study is the importance of communicating that you’re working hard to get items shipped as cheaply and quickly as possible. Shoppers understand that small businesses are struggling right now, but they want to know that you’re working with them.

Offer a few options, and be clear about shipping cost and time. Do everything in your power to ship ahead of or on time, and fix errors. 

If you communicate clearly and consistently, you can reduce cart abandonment and keep customers around long term.