Fashion is moving fast.
In March, Uniqlo announced a short-term goal of speeding up its production cycle to a rate comparable to Zara’s (13 days from design to delivery). During February’s New York Fashion Week, despite rumors of the “gimmick” losing steam, a number of big-name designers (including Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger) debuted see-now, buy-now styles, granting customers the opportunity to shop and wear runway looks without delay. And finally, many fashion retailers have started offering one-day delivery. In fact, some are guaranteeing shoppers purchases on their doorstep within an hour. A handful are providing the service for free.
The faster delivery times are no doubt a response to more shoppers buying online. (By 2025, the online share of total luxury sales is predicted to be 18 percent, or $90 billion, according to McKinsey and Co.) Retailers are competing for their business, and as time goes on, they’re getting more competitive.
Between 2013 and 2015, average delivery time for online orders decreased from 4.6 days to 4.1, Kevon Hills, vice president of research at StellaService, told the Wall Street Journal. In 2015, about half of all packages were delivered within three days, up from about a third in 2013.
But three days is a snail’s pace in 2017. Here’s what’s flying now in terms of retail shipping.
Fast vs. free
“First and foremost, free still trumps fast,” said Steve Osburn, managing director at management consulting firm Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy. Therefore, he said, retailers need to ensure they can reduce their overall shipping costs through proper inventory placement and reduced processing times. It’s the only way to make ends meet.
Results from an October 2016 survey by professional services firm Deloitte echoed that sentiment: 71 percent of shoppers chose free shipping as retailers’ most valuable offering, compared to 31 percent who chose discounts on expedited shipping. Eighty-eight percent said they should never have to pay for three- or four-day shipping, and on average, most said they’d only pay $5 for same-day shipping. Luckily, 92 percent of stores already have a free shipping option, according to a Kurt Salmon report from December 2016.
What’s more, customers no longer consider three- or four-day shipping “fast” as they did in 2015. In 2016, only delivery times of two days or less fit the bill, according to Deloitte.
That seems generous compared to where the industry is headed.
Same-day shipping is still impressive, but now retailers are feeling pressure to offer one-hour and 90-minute delivery. Blame the small group of retailers, ranging from high-end aggregators to mid-price startups, that can pull off lightning-fast package drops.
Last month, while revealing details of its Store of the Future concept, Farfetch announced F90, a delivery service launched exclusively with Gucci that guarantees 90-minute deliveries in 10 cities.
A week prior, Net-a-Porter revealed plans for “You Try, We Wait,” a perk for its top customers: They place an order, and on the same day, a personal shopper hand-delivers their purchases and returns any unwanted items. Launching later this year in a handful of cities, it’s a step above Net-a-Porter Premier, a $25 same-day delivery option for shoppers in New York and select surrounding cities.
Retailers leading the shift to quicker-than-same-day shipping
As for smaller retailers, Everlane is one that’s successfully pulling off one-hour drops in NYC. The service is $4.95 for one item and free for two or more.
One-hour shipping fits modern customers’ lifestyles better than same-day delivery, according to Robert Cantwell, Everlane’s head of finance and operations. “People are shuttling between home, the office and errands in between, and a long, imprecise delivery window is a headache,” he said last year. “One-hour delivery is getting you the package wherever you are.”
According to a 2017 survey by Magid Associates, 11 percent of all U.S. consumers have used Amazon Prime Now, which promises two-hour delivery — even though the service is only available in 30 cities nationwide. The percentage is even higher when examining regular shoppers of popular apparel retailers: To date, 26 percent of Nordstrom shoppers, 19 percent of Macy’s shoppers and 13 percent of Target shoppers have used Amazon Prime Now.
“These apparel buyers may be using Prime Now for things others than apparel, but the fact that 26 percent of Nordstrom’s apparel customers are using Prime Now should be concerning for Nordstrom, due to the fact that the mindset for expedited delivery is being put in place within these Nordstrom customers,” said Matt Sargent, svp of retail at Magid Associates.
Even high-end apparel customers are taking advantage of Amazon’s expedited shipping offerings, which suggests it’s only a matter of time before more luxury retailers are forced to pick up the pace. Thirty-two percent of apparel consumers who have spent over $500 in apparel in the past six months have purchased apparel through Prime, Amazon’s service that offers two-day shipping, according to the same Magid Associates study. That’s nearly double the percentage of apparel shoppers as a whole (18 percent).
“As retail moves more and more to online fulfillment, luxury brands need to become more aware of their customers’ desire to instant gratification,” Sargent said.
You snooze, you lose
“More and more retailers are providing speed, either as an upgrade or as the standard, and as consumers become accustomed to the service, they will expect it from all of the places that they shop,” said Osburn. In short, retailers that can’t deliver will undoubtedly feel the effects.
As expedited shipping becomes an increasingly important variable, retailers are pushed to explore ways to rush the process without breaking the bank. Some have it easier than others based on their existing setup.
“Those that have ventured into same-day delivery are using pre-positioned inventory — typically store inventory, but sometimes local distribution centers — and non-traditional delivery methods, like courier services,” Osburn said. “The good news for traditional brick-and-mortar retailers is that their stores can — and have to — play an active part in this, which puts them a step above most pure play e-commerce companies.”
Another plus for smaller brick-and-mortar stores: Shipping companies are helping them compete. The WSJ reported that many shipping companies believe Amazon will starve their networks, hurting their businesses in the process. As a result, many are starting to open distribution centers and manage fulfillment for retailers that could benefit from the support.
Not only does fast shipping meet customers’ new expectations, it also helps sales, which considering the rocky retail climate, is a major benefit. Faster delivery is linked to instant gratification, and for many retailers, it has helped lower the return rate.
“The bottom line is that all retailers need to be developing a strategy that allows their customer to get what they want, when they want it. This needs to include free, fast and everything in between,” Osburn said.