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Holiday shipping 101: how to avoid major problems

Written by Spencer Durrant on December 11, 2015 in Strategies & Tips

8179564865_5f8696b50b_k.jpgIn 2013, thousands of customers waited in vain for gifts they'd ordered online to arrive in time for Christmas. As many of you remember, a startlingly large number of packages were either not delivered, or delivered after Christmas. In 2014, a similar situation played out. 

While you have no control over parcel delivery companies and their workflow breakdowns, you do have the obligation to do everything you can to avoid any shipping problems on your end. So what do you need to do in order to make sure your customers' packages are delivered on time? Let's find out.

Plan your final cutoff dates before major carriers

All the major carriers - USPS, UPS, and FedEx - have final cutoff dates for when orders can be placed and delivered in time for Christmas. 

FedEx final dates

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UPS final dates

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USPS final dates

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Information courtesty Consumer Reports.

So, based on these dates, you can now establish "final dates" for ordering from your online store. The logic behind placing your final cutoff dates before the major carriers' dates is that, if some snafu occurs, your customers' orders will have been in the system before the final cutoff dates. 

This helps because, as we've seen the past two years, all carriers have struggled to fulfill last-minute orders. When the carriers' final cutoff dates arrive, you can bet that they're swamped with more orders than they can likely handle. But by setting your store's final shipping dates before the carriers' dates, you're making it more likely that your customers will receive their packages before Christmas, if another major breakdown in delivery occurs in 2015. 

What if I use multiple carriers?

This is a scenario that's more likely to be an issue for retailers who use dropshipping as their means of fulfillment. Since most retailers using dropshipping are sourcing products from multiple suppliers, those suppliers are likely all using different carriers. 

This presents a problem, but not one that's impossible to work around: 

  • For the products sold by Supplier A (let's say they use FedEx) you'll need to put a disclaimer on those product pages detailing your final cutoff date for ordering. For example, December 16th is FedEx's cutoff for delivery using their Home Delivery and FedEx ground services. Set your final date for the 14th.  You may even need to set it earlier, depending on how long it takes your dropship supplier to process and ship your orders. 
  • For the products sold by Supplier B (let's say they use UPS) you'll need to do the same thing - just with date alterations. 

It's imperative that, if you're using a dropship supplier, you know how long it takes them to process, pick, package, and ship your order. This will help inform your decision and set the date that will best work for your customers. 

Setting your dates ahead of the carriers' final dates also helps create a sense of urgency that you can use to your advantage, in order to boost sales. 

Now, if you're a retailer with owned inventory but have more than one warehouse and use different shipping companies, you'll need to follow the above advice as well, adjusted for your specific business model. 

What if those dates are too soon?

If you think that setting dates for final shipping as of next week is too soon, and will cut too much into your holiday profits, don't worry. You'll notice that every carrier - FedEx, UPS, and USPS - all have "final" dates later in the month of December. The tradeoff is that you risk your customers' packages arriving on time should any fulfillment issues arise again, and shipping costs will be higher as well. 

If you can, discount shipping costs or offer it free after customers buy a certain dollar amount from your store to help offset the higher cost of shipping packages closer to the absolute final deadlines. 

Make your customers aware of deadlines

Lastly, it's very important that you make your customers aware of final shipping deadlines. Send emails, post it on social media, put a banner on the top of your site, list deadlines on product pages - do everything you can think of to make sure that your customers are abundantly aware of your store's final shipping deadlines. 

If you're not proactive in letting your customers know about final shipping deadlines for the holidays, you're going to run into a host of problems. The holiday season can make or break retailers, especially SMBs. You don't want any bad press from disgruntled customers being plastered across social media this time of year, and you can avoid it by aggressively communicating final shipping deadlines. 


While you can't control what happens with shipping companies, you can prepare for the worst by establishing early final deadlines for your online store. Doing so will show your customers that you're committed to helping them get their packages as quickly as possible. 


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Photo courtesy Queen Bee.Used with permission.

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