Online retail delivery order volumes were up 17.2% year-on-year in December, according to the latest data from the IMRG MetaPack UK Delivery Index, producing record volume for the peak period.
This contrasted with low year-on-year growth for the same month in 2016 (only 2.4%) when there was a slow-down in growth between November and December, which appeared to reflect the impact of Black Friday pulling a bulk of orders forward into November.
However, the percentage of orders arriving on time fell to its lowest level (85%) since IMRG and MetaPack started tracking it in 2011.
This was driven extreme weather conditions across Scotland, Wales and northern England, which caused delays to movement of stock, according to Andrew Starkey, head of e-Logistics at IMRG.
“It also featured record volumes for this period, including the late surge in orders that was higher than anticipated,” he added.
“Another key influence was the high use of next day delivery which puts additional pressure on delivery windows and, in some cases, is an example of businesses giving their customers something they haven’t specifically asked for. This option is often provided by default now by some retailers and, as many of these next day orders were not technically requested or required next day, the low on-time delivery rate is more noticeable to the retailer than the customer.”
This year there was a 6% growth in online orders on November as the peak kept building up to Christmas.
The strong uplift in December was largely driven by a surge in demand on December 18, as it psychologically represents the last day that shoppers feel genuinely confident their orders will arrive on time.
That Monday is not the last day on which many retailers provide guarantee of delivery in time for Christmas, however, and the data suggests that the late spike in orders was driven by shoppers making last-minute purchases of single items or responding to promotions, as the bulk of the gift-buying is likely to have happened far earlier.
Maria Dahlqvist Canton, global marketing director at MetaPack, said: “The ecommerce market is growing at such a rapid pace, and the rise in delivery order volumes, not just during December, but over the whole of 2017, reflects this positive expansion.
“However, as consumer expectation is changing, and shoppers feel more confident to place their orders closer and closer to Christmas, it does mean that, even with excellent planning, it puts unprecedented pressure on both retailers and carriers to keep their delivery promise.”