Holiday e-commerce demand got an early start in 2017

The growth of e-commerce around peak shopping season is no longer a new story, and this year was no exception. But 2017’s peak season did raise some eyebrows for getting off to an unusually early start, with sales from Nov. 1 to Nov. 22 up 17.9 percent, year-over-year, according to Internet Retailer’s report on the peak shopping season.

Part of the growth was likely due to e-tailers like Amazon offering early deals and other, more conventional retailers following suit. Around 30 percent of online retail sales through most of November were from Amazon, but other retailers – most notably Target – also captured healthy shares of the online shopping market. E-commerce accounted for about 20.2 percent of retail sales from Thanksgiving through “Cyber Monday,” up from 18.4 percent in 2016.

During the holiday shopping season, volumes moving through fulfillment centers are about six times higher than at any other time of year, but consumer expectations for speedy fulfillment remain high, regardless. To meet those requirements, the Internet Retailer report said retailers can take steps to prepare in advance, including: moving from a single fulfillment center model to a multiple regional fulfillment model; hiring in advance to staff fulfillment and customer service centers; and investing in technology for things like order and shipping status tracking.

On the shipper side, fulfillment services struggled to keep up with the shopping surge in the days after Thanksgiving, the report found. UPS fell behind in deliveries across its United States network, and ShipMatrix estimates that about 94.4 percent of the carrier’s ground deliveries were on time between Nov. 26 and Dec. 2. FedEx Ground maintained a better record, at 96.1 percent, while the U.S. Postal Service’s Parcel Select service, for last-mile delivery, maintained a 99 percent on-time record.

According to the report, free shipping was the big winner for gaining customer approval, with 74 percent of consumers surveyed in a 2017 UPS report naming free shipping as the most important metric when buying online. Retailers were largely ready to meet that requirement, and Internet Retailer estimated that 85 percent of orders on Thanksgiving and the day after, a.k.a. “Black Friday,” shipped for free, while 89 percent of the following Cyber Monday orders included free shipping.

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