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Surge In Online Holiday Shopping Puts Pressure On Retailers


Christmas Eve is finally here. And even though St. Nick is on his way, he usually needs a little help. Many people are still shopping for gifts, and with more Christmas purchases happening online, stores and shipping companies are scrambling to keep up. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports from Los Angeles.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: I'm at a mall down the street from NPR West. OK, real talk, folks - I'm here to do a story, and I'm here to buy Christmas presents. And apparently I'm not the only one.

GARY SPRINGER: I've been here since 1979, so I've seen all the big times, the slow times. I've seen good and bad.

GLINTON: Gary Springer has spent 36 Christmases at Toys "R" Us. He says on Christmas Eve, people are pretty mellow inside the store.

SPRINGER: They're less demanding. They're more into gee, the toy's there; I'll get it. It might not be their first choice, but it could be their third choice.

KATHY ALLEN: Let's not forget that we are a nation of procrastinators.

GLINTON: Before I drove to the mall, I got a hold of Kathy Allen on her cell phone. She's with the National Retail Federation. She says shoppers have taken the procrastinating spirit from the mall to online.

ALLEN: Regardless of this early commotion, there are still millions of people who like the idea of buying items online, even at the last minute. And those are challenges that retailers, small and large, have to work around.

GLINTON: Retailers learned a lesson from last year when they overpromised. Joel Bines is a retail analyst with Alix Partners. He says an increasing number of shoppers didn't go to the mall.

JOEL BINES: I didn't either. I didn't either. And you would think that you plus me plus everybody else would have translated into the shippers and the retailers realizing that the online volume was going to vastly exceed their expectations.

GLINTON: Bines says retailers, in many ways, haven't faced reality. More people, and especially those with money, are buying online.

BINES: I bet if you asked that question of a thousand retail executives, 900 of them would tell you that they themselves did not shop in a retail store this holiday season for gifts.

GLINTON: Each one of the big stores invested heavily in distribution. Target, Walmart, Macy's and others spent billions to make sure they could get gifts out on time. Bines says many shipping delays occurred immediately after Cyber Monday when volumes went through the roof. Now on-time delivery rates for most shipping companies are in the high-90s. But Bines says brick-and-mortar retailers still haven't learned their lesson.

BINES: It is very difficult to step outside of that environment and really, truly understand the speed with which consumers are shifting their order patterns to the online world, particularly around holiday periods.

GLINTON: Well, story and shopping done, but actually, I've got to get something for my editor. Oh, I'll do it online. He can wait. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.