No Stock, No Staff, No Service: Holiday Edition

Holiday Edition

In our latest study, No Staff, No Stock, No Service, we’re exploring evolving perceptions of customer service in the wake of COVID disruptions and changes. With the holiday season approaching, we wanted to understand the impact that these changes will have on consumers’ holiday shopping strategy and behaviors.  

Uncertainty on the Horizon

Insufficient staffing and supply-chain issues have been all over the news for months. According to a recent Forbes article, out-of-stock messages were up 250% in October 2021, compared to January 2020.  This uncertainty is causing consumers to rethink their holiday shopping behaviors.  While some shoppers are approaching this season as business as usual, many are considering an early start in order to circumvent unpredictable shipping times, possible rising prices, and backordered items.

I think the holidays are the next big test – (Many companies are) telling people to order their gifts now…so that’s going to be the next test with Covid and the supply-chain issues. I just read that the prices are expected to rise in December and January so I would rather just buy now and not be surprised by the higher prices in the coming days.

Male, 18-34, Pennsylvania

Black Friday Bust?

In our last post, LEANING ON LOCAL, we heard that many consumers are turning to local businesses post-pandemic.  For the upcoming holiday shopping season, shoppers are torn: most plan to continue supporting local businesses wherever possible, while others anticipate shopping at national retailers that they expect will offer lower prices and better selection.

I think I’m more likely to shop online this year, more interested in shopping from local stores in my community and getting something meaningful rather than just buying (online or big box). 

female, 18-34, massachusetts

But that doesn’t mean customers are embracing traditional in-person Black Friday sales.  In fact, most customers are expecting Black Friday to be rife with inexperienced employees, hostile shoppers, and overall chaos.  Instead, they are shifting some of their purchasing online, whether it’s with local or national retailers, and some are avoiding in-person shopping altogether.

Black Friday? Nope.

female, 35-60, nebraska

Make it Meaningful

In addition to shopping locally, consumers are also looking to make their holiday giving more meaningful.  In general, this means getting creative and handmaking gifts or giving “experiences” over “things.”  Several participants also mention using gifts to create shared experiences between extended family and groups of friends.  Some ideas for out-of-the-box gift giving include restaurant gift certificates, museum memberships, and private group experiences like chartering a fishing boat.

While it remains to be seen how things unfold for consumers throughout the holiday shopping season, it’s clear that poor customer service continues to frustrate shoppers. Ultimately, consumers understand that the frontline employees who help (or don’t help) them are only as effective and empathetic as the company they work for allows them to be.  In our next post, we’ll examine how and why consumers hold businesses responsible for their customer service experiences and how they know when those companies are empowering their staff to give the best service possible.

No Stock, No Staff, No Service is a national quantitative survey in August of 2021 (N=1000) and qualitative focus groups in October of 2021.  Another holiday study (N=1000) was done in mid-November 2021.  In this national study, we measured perceptions of customer service before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, causes of positive and negative customer service experiences, industries that excel and/or fall short at customer service, and expectations of customer service post-pandemic.