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Consumer Insights to Help You Prepare for Peak Season 2024

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As consumers are taking stock of their holiday season experiences, we wanted to know: what were their biggest challenges?
person opening a package with bright red bow

The 2023 holiday season is long gone, but the effects it had on consumers have continued to linger. This past year, shoppers were forced to contend with rising inflation, inventory challenges, and other obstacles as they placed their holiday orders and tried to secure gifts in time for holiday celebrations. On top of that, many frustrated consumers had to track down late or missing packages, reach out to customer service for assistance, or navigate retailers’ changing policies for post-holiday returns and exchanges.  

As consumers are taking stock of their holiday season experiences, we wanted to know: what were their biggest challenges? Did their packages arrive on time? Did retailers communicate clearly? Did they have to make returns? So, we asked them!  

In this article, we’ll explore the findings of that survey to better understand the challenges consumers’ faced during the 2023 peak season, and the trends that brands and retailers will need to consider as they start to look ahead to the 2024 peak season. 

Challenge #1: Out of Stock Items 

As supply chain instability continued to plague retailers this peak season, the resulting inventory shortages created lingering frustrations for consumers. Our research found “out-of-stock” items was the top holiday shopping challenge for 68% of consumers. In addition, 44% of the shoppers we surveyed said they simply did not order items that would not arrive by a specific date in 2023. 

Consumers have lots of options when it comes to marketplaces and product choices— and they’re prepared to shop around for the items they want. If you don’t have an item in stock, consumers may be forced to shop with competitors who do have inventory available and are able to deliver it on time. Not only that, but big-box retailers tended to be favored when item availability was a concern. 64% of consumers surveyed chose to purchase holiday items from Amazon due to the availability of items, and 47% chose to purchase holiday items from Walmart or Target for the same reason. 

Invest in Inventory Forecasting 

With that in mind, accurate inventory forecasting will be critical for 2024 and beyond. Collaborating with a third-party logistics (3PL) partner like Radial can help streamline the complexities of forecasting and fulfillment. Our intelligence tools ensure your team has full insight into your inventory throughout the end-to-end fulfillment process, so you can make sure you have the right items in stock at the right times— and that your brand stands out from the crowd. 

Similarly, many retailers have found success in offering pre-ordering leading up to popular times, which can help inform and validate inventory forecasts. Taking orders early allows brands and retailers extra time to gauge interest in specific items or categories as they work to anticipate demand and ensure items are appropriately stocked for peak times. On the flip side, consumers who pre-order can enjoy the added peace of mind of knowing their order is already in the pipeline and is expected to arrive by a specific date. It’s a win-win for everyone. 

Communicate Item Availability 

Countless retailers have also implemented customer-facing inventory availability tools on their eCommerce sites— and, so far, customers like them. Our research showed that 31% of consumers found inventory quantity indicators helpful during their 2023 shopping. This added level of transparency can go a long way with shoppers weighing their choices, and let them know when there’s an added sense of urgency behind their purchase decision.  

At Radial, we know that customers crave transparency. With our real-time inventory solutions, retailers can see a complete picture of their inventory in a single, cloud-based solution, all while translating inventory into availability for your customers. 

Challenge #2: Lack of Deals and Sales 

With inflation on the rise and prices higher than ever, many consumers found themselves seeking out holiday sales to help stretch their budgets even further. Unfortunately, many came up short in their search. 66% of shoppers cited “lack of deals and sales” as another one of their top holiday shopping frustrations in 2023. As a result, consumers were more likely to shop with big-box stores, with more than half of respondents opting to shop at Amazon, Walmart, or Target due to the affordability of items. 

Retailers who ran strategic, well-promoted sales, however, saw significant year-over-year growth. Online consumers set new records during the 2023 Cyber Week promotions and brands that advertised steep, limited time discounts saw the biggest impact, as many shoppers were willing to wait for those deals. 

Prepare for Promos Early 

Looking ahead to 2024, consumers will be on the hunt for similar peak season sales. Meeting customers with the right message at the right time is the best way to get their attention. Start building your marketing strategy now so you can meet consumer expectations during peak season, and delight them with your special offers.  

As you reflect on the 2023 peak season and begin to plan for 2024, it’s important to consider:  

  • Sale timing: Did you plan your peak promo strategy and for the right times? Do you need to adjust your sale timing for 2024 based on your post-season learnings? 

  • Annual sale dates: Are you taking advantage of traditional marketing and sale dates when consumers will expect special deals (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.)? 

  • Flash sale opportunities: Are you offering flash sales or other “burst” promotions? Should your team consider offering pop ups or other short-term placements? 

Boost Loyalty With Exclusive Deals 

You might also consider rewarding your most devoted shoppers with exclusive deals. Many brands offer early-access to sales or greater discounts on products to their loyalty club members, email- or text-marketing subscribers, and other high-value shoppers. Building loyalty programs and subscriber lists leading into peak season will also allow your brand to gather deeper insights into your customers’ preferences so you can personalize marketing outreach, and nurture those relationships year-round.  

Challenge #3: Slow Shipping Speeds 

It’s no surprise that the pandemic caused fundamental shifts across the shipping and fulfillment industries. As supply chains slowed down, shipping became lengthier and more expensive for brands and retailers— which posed a huge obstacle for high-volume periods like peak season.  

While Radial Research shows that some consumers are focusing more on reliable delivery coming out of the pandemic, the majority of shoppers still have high expectations for their holiday orders. 57% of shoppers cited “show shipping speeds” as one of their top holiday headaches. In that same vein, 51% of shoppers cited “late or delayed orders” as a top challenge. 

To complicate matters further, Amazon’s Prime Shipping speeds are putting even more pressure on retailers to accelerate their shipping timelines. 66% of consumers said they were more likely to shop with Amazon due to the two-day Prime Shipping. 

Share Clear Delivery Timelines 

Setting clear expectations and proactively communicating updates goes a long way with holiday shoppers. In our survey, 66% of shoppers rated communication from retailers regarding order status and potential delays during the holiday season as “clear” or “very clear.” If an order is going to be delayed or arrive later than expected, consumers want retailers to let them know. Establishing clear communication channels and sharing regular order updates helps to maintain positive relationships with shoppers and takes some pressure off your customer service teams at peak times. 

Thankfully, many brands and retailers are already working on solutions to better customer communication. In fact, 33% of retail executives report that they’re working to provide real-time visibility on order delivery. This is a step in the right direction towards enhancing customer experience from click to delivery while building trust and loyalty with shoppers. 

Optimize Last Mile Delivery  

With more and more shoppers expecting free delivery and wanting orders shipped directly to their homes, last mile delivery processes are often the biggest challenge in the order fulfillment process.  

From regionalizing inventory and distribution centers to diversifying transportation and logistics partnerships, retailers will need to find creative solutions to improve their eCommerce transportation management in 2024. Partnering with the right 3PL can help to ensure your inventory is in the right place at the right time, reducing the shipping costs and timelines for last mile delivery. 

As a third-party logistics (3PL) provider with 30 years in the industry, Radial has long-standing relationships with both large national carriers and networks of smaller, regional carriers. Our customers can experience the best of both worlds, leveraging our partnerships to improve shipping timelines and costs, and avoid frustrated customers. 

Prepare for Peak Season 2024 With Radial 

As the industry’s largest 3PL provider, Radial supports thousands of brands and retailers every holiday shopping season. As you prepare for peak season 2024, our team can guide you in creating accurate inventory forecasts, designing effective promotion calendars, and optimizing last-mile logistics so you can navigate peak periods and surprise demand surges with ease. 

From fulfillment and transportation management, to omnichannel solutions and customer care services, Radial delivers the expertise, automation, and trusted guidance for successful order fulfillment. 

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Radial can help with peak season.