How to build brand loyalty during peak

By Neil Ashworth

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Here are the key things retailers should keep in mind when planning how to support consumers to get their Christmas shopping done online, even at the last minute.

  • Provide a range of options, but don’t overwhelm with choice
  • Remember that it’s an emotive time
  • Make returns simple
  • Develop creative solutions to remove complexity
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver


It’s a familiar festive scenario; on Christmas Eve, in shopping centres and on high streets across the UK, last minute shoppers are frantically trying to find gifts for loved ones. In the rush, their hunt for the perfect present often ends with plumping for yet another pair of socks for grandad.

Shopping online for last minute presents has not traditionally been the first choice for shoppers, with gifters preferring the security of their busy local high street in the last few days before Christmas. Online retailers have been equally nervous about promising shoppers ambitious delivery dates which could prove hard to achieve. Customers who do shop online at the last minute will be anxious, relying on tracking services to seek reassurance that their all-important purchases for their loved ones will indeed arrive in time for Christmas morning.

However, thanks to improvements in tracking technology, and the flexibility that delivery options such as click and collect offer to time-poor shoppers, retailers are now able to support their customers to do their shopping online even if it is last minute.

With Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday last year, retailers such as ASOS and still offered next day delivery click and collect stores up until 23rd December. This year, with a Sunday Christmas Eve, there is an even larger shopping window, so we can expect to see purchases made down to the wire once again.

Provide a range of options, but don’t overwhelm with choice

As the pressure mounts for shoppers to find the perfect present in time for Christmas, retailers should take a strategic view of the delivery options they have on offer. The right mix of choice and convenience will avoid the dreaded basket abandonment.

Last minute shoppers will already be feeling panicky, so try not to give them too much to think about when it comes to their delivery options. In one recent online mystery shop, we found thirteen different delivery options in the matrix. Clearly this is highly confusing for customers, and has potential to lead them to abandon their basket if they feel overwhelmed.

Equally, for retailers with limited delivery options, it is crucial to ensure they provide enough choices to suit their customers’ busy lifestyles. During peak season, people are visiting family, travelling to other parts of the country and attending more social events than usual. All of this cuts into their available time to wait in for deliveries, so offering a healthy range of options that will fit in with their atypical schedule is vital.

Remember that it’s an emotive time

Delivery companies and retailers alike need to remember that, emotionally, this is a bad time to get it wrong. Failure to deliver a present to your customer on time has the potential to significantly damage your brand in their eyes, and could lead them to shop with your competitor.

It’s crucial to get things right first time wherever possible, even if that requires more support and investment. So, working together with partners to plan collections, volumes, service standards, returns and hours of operation should always start earlier than you think. Emotions will be running high as Christmas draws ever nearer, but starting earlier will ensure that you are adequately prepared and can reassure customers accordingly.

As Christmas approaches, clear communication is vital to retain trust and credibility between all parties. Ensure that you are working closely with your delivery partners to keep customers well-informed of the status of their delivery and its whereabouts. Be transparent and do everything in your power to build the trust that could be in jeopardy in the event of a mishap.

Make returns simple

Financing Christmas can be a stretch, and many shoppers will have limited resources available to buy gifts for their loved ones. Therefore, if something they’ve ordered online isn’t what they hoped for, they will appreciate a swift and easy refund process so they can afford to find the right gift in time for Christmas.

Creating a returns process that appears seamless to the end user is not necessarily straightforward, and several factors must come in to play for this to be successful. Providing a reliable, simple and fast returns service will build customer loyalty and encourage repeat purchases with your brand in the future.

Customers need a returns service that fits with their frenetic lifestyle as Christmas approaches, so offering a range of flexible and convenient options is essential. Almost half (44%) of CollectPlus parcels are dropped off or picked up by customers outside of typical office opening hours, so customers appreciate being able to return their unwanted items to a convenient location with extended opening hours at the busiest time of year.

Retailers must also make sure they communicate effectively with their customers about the status of their returns. Tracked returns provide last minute shoppers with reassurance that their refund will be processed in time for them to source an alternative gift, and that their money will be refunded as swiftly as possible.

For retailers, a quick and easy returns process for customers has the added benefit of getting stock back into the business in a timely manner, and these items can be resold at full price ahead of the start of the January sales.

Develop creative solutions to remove complexity

To encourage panicked Christmas shoppers to go online, retailers must remove barriers and make the process as easy, and stress-free, as possible. This is especially true of mobile shoppers – with more than 50% of online searches now on mobile, but with most people only using a handful of apps on a regular basis, it is important to stick to interfaces that are simple and easy to use.

While on the high street and on desktop sites retailers can create their own look and feel, on a small mobile screen options are limited. Increasingly, retailers’ mobile websites are conforming to standardised design, for example with three horizontal lines indicating a drop-down menu.

Strip out a lot of unnecessary extra steps to make the parcel collection and returns processes more intuitive and easy for our customers to use. For example, instead of requiring proof of address to collect a parcel, customers need only show a credit or debit card. Streamlining this process keeps things simple, reduces queues and makes repeated use of our service much more appealing.

Online retailers that offer a shopping experience that is simple and straightforward from end to end will stand the best chance of motivating customers to transact online in the run up to Christmas.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

The key to keeping customers on side over Christmas is to avoid making unrealistic commitments and failing customers’ expectations.

During the longer run up to Christmas, fast delivery does not necessarily need to be the primary goal. The popularity of Black Friday and Cyber Week shows no signs of letting up, but the retail industry has converted a single day of sales into ‘black five-day’, taking the sting out of peak.

However, in the final few days before Christmas, retailers should communicate their cut off dates clearly. This assessment should factor in enough time to allow for mishaps, and incorporate contingency plans. After all, a promise is not a promise until it is fulfilled.

In summary

Those who plan effectively and collaboratively with their delivery partners to ensure that the necessary preparation is in place will have the best outcomes for customers over the peak season.

Last minute online retail shoppers will continue to head online in ever-greater numbers ahead of seasonal peaks, and there is no reason why the retail and logistics industry cannot rise to the challenge with proper planning and effective communication. Getting delivery and returns right for customers at this most sensitive time of year will build loyalty and goodwill towards your brand. Getting it wrong will cause significant, perhaps permanent damage.

By planning effectively, thinking laterally and prioritising the needs and anxieties of the customer, retailers can ensure that last minute shoppers feel supported and valued, and even build loyalty to their brand by delivering an excellent experience at this most crucial time of year.


By Neil Ashworth, CEO of CollectPlus

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