A new study conducted by Wakefield Research for customer communications platform Intercom confirms that shoppers got the message about the supply chain crisis impacting holiday shopping and gift giving. 77% of consumers anticipate problems with online purchases and they’re conveying their anxiety to customer service where more than half of agents have considered quitting because of heightened stress.

The survey, fielded by 1,000 U.S. consumers and 500 customer service agents, found that 30% of consumers had contacted customer service more this year than the previous year and 45% found the interactions unhelpful. The majority of customers and customer service representatives (60% and 61% respectively) share expectations that issues will not be successfully resolved.

The biggest concerns, understandably, are gifts not arriving in time or not being available at all. This anxiety is reflected in Adobe data showing that online shoppers have been buying earlier this year.

Concerns are well-founded. Dave Bruno, Director of Retail Market Insights at retail management software firm Aptos, says consumers are right to be worried. “I don’t expect things to settle down until well into the new year,” he told us. “And even then, chip shortages, winter COVID surges, and fuel price and supply disruptions are all huge unknowns that could push recovery out much further.”

Bruno had already correctly predicted a surge in inflation, driven in part by China’s energy crisis. “The convergence of crises continues, and it will continue to impact consumer experiences for months to come.” The effect is to worsen pre-existing supply chain problems. “The systemic issues causing all of our recent supply chain disruption have not gotten significantly worse,” said Bruno, “but we haven’t really seen dramatic improvements either.”

Too late to resolve problems. Brands which are under-prepared for handling inventory and delivery issues are out of time to act. “The retailers that took early steps to minimize these impacts will have significant competitive advantage in the coming weeks. Everyone else will need to become incredibly effective communicators as they try to inform consumers of potential supply shortfalls without turning them away or causing panic buys. Publishing real-time online updates as to the in-stock status of hot items will help. Informed store associates, empowered with real-time visibility into enterprise-wide inventory, will be essential.”

According to the Intercom report, that’s exactly the kind of support consumers are looking for. Almost all consumers (over 90%) say they expect to be notified of delays without having to ask. Almost 80% would like to know about potential delays before they make the purchase.

Read next: How changes in logistics and the supply chain will impact customer experience

Why we care. “We must do everything we can to communicate with our customers, collaborate with our partners, and deploy every marketing tactic we have to ride out this protracted period of intense disruption,” said Bruno. Marketing, sales and service teams can’t fix the supply chain. What they can do is communicate early, often and without waiting for the distressed phone call.”

Maybe consumers will forgive brands for running out of stock or failing to deliver on time; maybe they won’t. What they’ll rightly condemn is lack of transparency, willful over-promising and bad service experiences.

About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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