Retailers’ promised delivery time is longer than ever before this year, which could derail shoppers receiving online orders ahead of Christmas.

On average, retailers are quoting a six-day delivery period this year, compared with five days in 2019 and four days in 2018, Accenture found after placing online orders with 52 retailers on November 30.

This comes as last-minute shoppers in London and the Southeast have to rely solely on online to deliver Christmas orders following the closure of ‘non-essential’ shops after the regions were plunged into tier four this weekend.

Capacity in the UK’s delivery network was already stretched and struggling to cope with soaring online sales. Ecommerce trade body IMRG  reported that sales had surged 50% year on year in the first week of December. Meanwhile, social distancing requirements have impacted fulfilment capabilities.

Royal Mail has already reported delivery delays, which it put down to “Covid-related absences and necessary social distancing measures at local mail centres and delivery offices”.

Accenture managing director for strategy Kelly Askew said: ”I would like to think the pandemic has made people a bit more prepared with their Christmas shopping; however, there are many incorrigible last-minute shoppers in the population.

“It remains to be seen how much of a crush that population will put on the delivery network. If I were a consumer, I would be very cautious about making sure I was certain a retailer is going to meet its delivery promise.”

He said this caution in delivery times could spark a return to the high street in some quarters as shoppers seek certainty that their gifts arrive in time for the big day.

Shipping costs rise

Despite the longer delivery time, standard shipping costs have shot up this year. The average delivery cost was £4.16 compared with £3.94 in 2019, while average next-day delivery was up 58p at £7.44.

Askew believes this trend to charge the consumer more for delivery could continue.

“It’s no secret that ecommerce orders are less profitable than bricks and mortar. With the difficult year that retailers have had in the UK, there’s an incentive to continue to charge for delivery to make ecomm more profitable,” he said.

Slightly more retailers are offering same-day delivery this Christmas – 14% of retailers monitored offered the service, compared with 12% in 2019. This could prove vital following the closure of non-essential shops in tier four areas.