The 2022 definition of basically the 2021 definition of fast

Despite being anxious to get back to pre-pandemic lives, consumers are still gauging speed through a COVID lens

The past two years have been a blur of Zoom calls, digital learning, and adjusting to the circumstances of each stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no wonder that two-thirds (66%) of consumers say time seems to be going by faster than it did before the pandemic.

The younger the shopper, the more likely they are to feel this way. 77% of Gen Z and 70% of Millennials are feeling the time warp. These groups are especially likely to have had important milestones– graduations, weddings, starting families– affected by the pandemic, leaving them wondering where the time has gone and adjusting their age for COVID.

Similar expectations amid very different circumstances

Amid an altered sense of time, consumer expectations for delivery speed have remained largely the same since fall 2020—the first time during the pandemic we surveyed on the topic.

At the time of our October 2020 BOXpoll survey, Americans were preparing themselves for a dark COVID winter and largely doing their shopping from home. Shoppers had come to expect delivery delays, and their definition of “fast” free shipping (shown in red on the chart below) wasn’t quite as fast as it had been pre-pandemic.

When we next surveyed consumers about speed expectations in late April 2021, consumers’ definitions of “fast” (shown in yellow above) had slowed a bit more, extending by about one-third of a day for most product categories. Shoppers had just endured a holiday season of unprecedented delivery delays, which likely blunted their expectations. The U.S. was just starting to come down from another spring surge in cases and vaccines had recently become widely available, but COVID measures had not yet been loosened for the (ultimately short-lived, thanks to the Delta variant) “summer of hope.”

In a recent BOXpoll survey on the topic in late February, we found the definition of “fast” (shown in blue) has shifted back to similar expectations from October 2020—but remains slower than pre-pandemic expectations. Our most recent round of questions ran as the U.S. was coming down from the omicron wave, the CDC loosened its guidance on masks, and many people were returning to life as normal.

Despite being anxious to get back to pre-pandemic lives, consumers are still gauging speed through a COVID lens.

The new definition of fast

Patience is a virtue... but so is a self-care routine

Younger generations are the most patient for all products in general, with one significant exception. Gen Z has faster expectations than their counterparts for consumable products, giving sub-3-day definitions of “fast” free delivery for vitamins / supplements, personal care products, and household essentials. In other words, try not to leave younger shoppers hanging when it comes to products that are part of a daily routine.

“Slow” doesn’t necessarily mean “dealbreaker”

When we asked the slowest shipping consumers would find acceptable before abandoning a purchase, the average answer (for all products in general) exceeded 8 days, with Gen Z tolerating almost 10 days. (In the interest of reason, we’ve excluded responses that implied same-day delivery was ‘slow’ from this data set, but included same-day as an option in the definitions of ‘fast’ above.)

Apparel stands out as the category that shoppers will wait the longest for, with the average consumer waiting almost 9 days, and Gen Z waiting more than 11 days before jumping ship. We chalk this up to a pandemic-driven shift in priorities. According to the Census Bureau, apparel sales are up 19% from January 2021— an increase outpaced only by gas stations and food services, which are especially sensitive to ongoing inflation.

While many shoppers are heading online to update their closets as they return to normal social lives, the covid-era laissez-faire approach to the speed of those deliveries has stuck around. Consumers whose Monday-through-Friday uniform consists of sweatpants (and athleisure tops that look enough like professional clothes over Zoom) are less sensitive to slower deliveries for their weekend ensembles.

While this survey question did not specify shipping cost, we know from previous BOXpoll reporting that shoppers prioritize price over speed. Our takeaway: delivery doesn’t have to meet the "fast” bar to win conversions.

Rising shipping costs

As shipping costs rise, consumers are noticing the impact at checkout. For every category except minimum free shipping thresholds, more than half of consumers say shipping is more expensive than it was a year ago.

While we know consumers are always excited about free shipping (and again, prioritize price over speed), we don’t expect perceived increased shipping costs alone to blunt online purchasing.

Our recent BOXpoll reporting about inflation found that while most shoppers are noticing higher prices for just about every product category, far fewer shoppers have changed their purchasing habits in response. We expect the same to hold true for shipping costs. While consumers may be less likely to pay more for faster shipping in the near future, we don’t anticipate consumers to drastically cut online spending.

BOXpoll™ by Pitney Bowes, a weekly consumer survey on current events, culture,and ecommerce logistics. Conducted by Pitney Bowes with Morning Consult //2094 US consumers surveyed March 2022.© Copyright Pitney Bowes Inc.

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