Black Friday has officially arrived in Canada, and while sales are expected to be muted this year as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to e-commerce means retailers need to manage consumer expectations for online ordering.
Black Friday is the most popular shopping day in Canada, according to the Retail Council of Canada’s annual holiday shopping survey, with 41 per cent of Canadians saying they plan to shop for deals this year. Still, Canadians expect to spend less overall during this year’s holiday season. The average spend through 2020 is expected to be $693, down from last year’s spend of $792.
At the same time, people plan on shopping earlier, with 17 per cent saying they anticipate shipping delays as more people shop online.
The delivery experience is critical for retailers when it comes to retaining consumers online. An Accenture survey found 63 per cent of consumers said an unsatisfactory delivery experience would discourage them from shopping with a retailer again. The top frustration when it comes to online shopping is high shipping costs (62 per cent) and delivery delays (52 per cent).
Shipping concerns have yet to arise, although many retailers worry about timing as the holidays come closer.
Canada Post spokesperson Sylvie Lapointe said in an emailed statement that while parcel volumes have surged, items are currently “moving well through the system and without delays.”
“Our peak season plans are in place and we are regularly monitoring the situation – everything from equipment to incoming shipments, as well as keeping a close eye on the weather,” Lapointe said.
“As for online shopping, we are expecting significant parcel volumes this holiday season as Canadians embrace shopping from their computer or phone. Shopping early will help provide peace of mind to the shopper, while helping retailers and Canada Post to deliver.”
Canadian shipping companies have adjusted operations throughout the pandemic, adding staff and pickup spots to deal with the surge in volume. Canada Post hired 4,000 temporary employees and added 1,000 vehicles to its fleet to deal with the holiday surge. Purolator, which is majority-owned by Canada Post, has added new drop-off locations and more mobile pickup stops to deal with the surging demand.
‘Everyone is concerned’
Retail Council of Canada (RCC) chief executive Diane Brisebois said in an interview that while it’s too early to see how Canada’s shipping companies will manage the online shopping surge, the RCC is monitoring the situation closely, given how critical the customer service experience is for consumers.
“Everyone is concerned about the pressure on the delivery system,” she said.
The best approach for retailers, she said, is to communicate with consumers and manage expectations for the holiday season.
“We’ve seen a lot of merchants upgrade their websites so that the customer experience is more transparent and less disappointing,” Brisebois said.
“The more information you provide on the front end, the better the customer experience will be.”
Business strategy expert Mark Satov agrees, and says retailers that have not solidified their shipping plans in advance of events like Black Friday are at a disadvantage compared to big box retailers, which have the infrastructure already in place to deal with a surge in online shopping.
“If you are a small retailer and you haven’t figured this out yet, you are at the mercy of Canada Post,” Satov said on Yahoo Finance Canada’s program Crisis Management.
“I think there’s an opportunity to manage the promises that you make, so that people are not disappointed, and figure out creatively how to get stuff to people for Christmas.”
Many businesses – particularly those in regions affected by lockdowns such as Toronto and Peel – have already deployed creative solutions to help. Some small businesses have taken delivery into their own hands, offering free delivery for local customers.
“There have been a lot of creative solutions popping up,” Brisebois said.
“But the number one rule is to communicate. Be transparent so your customers know what is happening.”
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.