Click, then drive: Last-minute U.S. holiday shoppers do curbside pickup

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Many U.S. holiday shoppers, wary of going into stores during the latest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, went from their computers, phones or other devices to their cars on the Saturday before Christmas to make last-minute gift purchases and then drive to the store to pick them up.

Super Saturday is traditionally the busiest day of the year for holiday purchases, and this year online retail has been extra busy, and high-priority vaccine shipments have many Americans fretting that deliveries could be delayed this week.

U.S. retailers are expected to ring in record sales, with over 150 million American shoppers slated to buy holiday gifts Saturday online or in-store, up by more than 2 million from last year, the National Retail Federation said on Thursday.

As states enforce stricter mandates and consumers continue to avoid strolling through the local mall, most last-minute holiday shoppers will go online, the trade group said.

Many retailers have clocked record digital sales during the pandemic, overwhelming traditional shipping companies including FedEx (NYSE:FDX), UPS and the USPS. Vaccine shipments are a priority now, and this week, delivery drivers in the Northeast must navigate snowy streets.

As an alternative, Macy’s Inc (NYSE:M) and LVMH-owned Sephora are among those advertising fast delivery in partnership with gig-economy delivery companies like DoorDash and Instacart.

Retail experts said the well-publicized shipping crunch has many consumers deciding they want to be in the driver’s seat themselves.

“Because so many people are shopping online and can’t rely on delivery… people are going to get nervous and do more buy-online-pick-up-in-store or curbside,” said Amy Shulman, global head of professional services at retail data firm Sensormatic Solutions.

That is good news for department stores like Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and J.C. Penney, who are dangling perks like free gift wrapping and extra discounts to those who “click and collect” online orders. It also saves companies money.

“If you get it right, then operationally, click-and-collect services are significantly cheaper than ground shipping to somebody’s home,” said Andy Halliwell, UK-based international retail strategist at Publicis Sapient.

Craig Johnson, president at retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners, expects people to spend $36.1 billion this year on Super Saturday, up from the $34.4 billion they spent last year. These estimates include in-store and online purchases but exclude sales generated at gas stations, restaurants and automobile dealers.

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