Retailers Will Speed Up Holiday E-Commerce Shipping, Kurt Salmon Survey Finds

Despite delays in 2013, retailers double down on last-minute order fulfillment promises

NEW YORK--()--Amid a public fight for Thanksgiving weekend foot traffic, retailers are also battling behind the scenes to prepare for peak-season e-commerce orders. Forrester predicts that holiday e-commerce sales will increase 13% to $89 billion this year and competition is likely to be fierce. With free shipping increasingly expected, the differentiator this holiday season may come down to shipping speed. In fact, according to a new Kurt Salmon survey of 100 retail brands, retailers will reduce their processing and shipping time frames for multi-item orders by almost two days this holiday season.

On average, it took retailers eight days to get orders into the hands of shoppers last year, with 3.4 days to process and 4.6 days to ship. This year, retailers are looking to cut down processing time by one day, and shipping time by nearly one day, to bring the total order fulfillment time down to 6.1 days.

Heavy Competition Drives Shipping Race

When asked how competitive shipping and fulfillment practices could harm holiday sales, free and faster shipping are top concerns. A plurality of retailers (36%) say they are worried about competitors offering free shipping and 18% are worried they’ll lose sales to competitors offering next-day and same-day delivery. The free shipping war is on among several big-box stores, with Target recently announcing free shipping for the rest of the season with no minimum purchase, and already 76% of retailers are offering some form of free shipping off peak, compared to 35% last year.

“It’s high stakes during the holidays, and retailers are playing a game of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ when it comes to fulfillment,” said Steve Osburn, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon. “While it’s great for consumers looking for deals and convenience, it’s proving challenging for retailers who are already contending with constrained margins from a heavy promotional environment. We’ve seen retailers making progress to improve and enhance fulfillment practices to avoid the issues we saw in 2013, but every retailer can’t be Amazon.”

Retailers Investing to Improve Peak-Season Delivery

Retailers took action in 2014 in response to holiday season fulfillment issues, an increase in online orders and changing consumer expectations for shipping. When asked about priority investments to improve peak-season delivery, retailers say that their top focus was on shipping (25%) and technology/information (24%). Retailers are investing in free and faster shipping in order to capture more e-commerce sales in a competitive market. On the technology side, retailers noted that they were investing in online inventory and shipping management systems, distribution software, and improved forecasting systems.

Retailers Are Committed to Last-Minute Order Promises

Last-minute orders for guaranteed Christmas delivery were a thorn in the side of many retailers in 2013. Retailers say that about 15% of orders arrived late in 2013, and cite several reasons for delays. Twenty-six percent of retailers say that deliveries of last-minute gifts were thwarted by retailers failing to upgrade shipping when items left the distribution center late. Another 25% say they did not have the inventory in stock. Forty-five percent of retailers point the finger at the shippers or the shipping method, with 24% saying delays were the carriers’ fault and 21% citing issues with a non-guaranteed shipping method such as SmartPost and SurePost.

Despite these challenges, retailers will be even more aggressive with efforts to capture last-minute e-commerce sales this season, with 26%, up from 17% in 2013, saying their cut-off to guarantee Christmas delivery will be one to three days before Christmas. Nearly 50% of retailers will guarantee delivery by Christmas for orders placed by December 20, compared to 37% in 2013. Overall, retailers plan to push back the last order date for guaranteed Christmas arrival on average from 6.9 days (around December 18) to 5.5 days (between December 19 and 20). Retailers are also aiming to reduce the number of late orders to just 8% this year.

Consumers appear to be slightly wary: A separate Kurt Salmon survey of 1,893 consumers found that 40% of shoppers are generally confident that their orders will arrive by the promised date, but another 32% say that their confidence level depends on the retailer.

“After a few years of spending spikes early and late in the season, retailers are making ambitious promises in order to capture last-minute online sales,” Osburn said. “But if you compare average delivery times with last-minute promises, there is a gap that retailers will need to account for.”


Kurt Salmon surveyed over 100 retailers with e-commerce sites and revenues over $750 million (73% with $1 billion and up; 27% with between $750 million and $1 billion) about their peak-season shipping and fulfillment plans.

About Kurt Salmon

Kurt Salmon is a global management consulting firm dedicated to building the market leaders of tomorrow. More than just partnering with our clients, we ally with them, integrating ourselves seamlessly into their organizations in order to develop innovative, customized solutions for their 21st-century business issues. Succeeding in today’s increasingly complex, consumer-driven environment is an enormous challenge. But companies need to look beyond today; they need to position themselves for continued success in the even more uncertain future. That’s where Kurt Salmon comes in. We call it delivering “success for what’s next.” The results are transformative.

Visit to learn more.


For more information or to arrange an interview with Steve Osburn:
Julia Mellon, 212-584-5474

Release Summary

Kurt Salmon survey of 100 retailers finds that retailers plan to speed up holiday delivery by nearly two days. Retailers are ramping-up last-minute delivery promises, despite last year's challenges.


For more information or to arrange an interview with Steve Osburn:
Julia Mellon, 212-584-5474