While in a normal year we could have expected to see the continued rise of digital channels, the 2020 pandemic has dramatically accelerated this trend. Supply chains will face dramatically higher demand and so it is more important than ever to be fully prepared. Shipping is, of course, a crucial component and so retailers should be aware of the key shipping dates and deadlines in December to make sure purchases reach their destination in time for Christmas.
This year has seen the holiday shopping season start earlier than before as people anticipate the extra challenges ahead, but we can still expect many shoppers to be making purchases right up until the last minute. Research by Shopify found that 40% of customers are actively shopping in the last 10 days of the festive season. If those shoppers have any doubts that their purchases will be delayed, they are likely to switch to brick-and-mortar stores, so for digital retailers a guarantee of on-time delivery is essential to making the sale.
But each deadline depends on which service you are using and from which shipping agent. It’s important that retailers know of all the deadlines from the major shippers, such as Fedex, UPS the Royal Mail and the USPS in case they need to switch between services. All major providers can guarantee delivery as late as Wednesday December 23rd but, naturally, costs can vary significantly so this is a simple but effective way for well-organised retailers to keep costs down and maximise their profits.
FedEx SmartPost is the first shipping deadline retailers should be aware of. The cut-off date is 9th December. The following Tuesday 15th December is a key deadline date for a number of services by different providers. This is the last day for Retail Ground shipping by the USPS, for FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery as well as for UPS Ground services. Shipping costs will rise significantly after this date, especially for heavy and/or bulky items so retailers shipping those products should tailor their marketing activities around this deadline.
After the 15th December there are still a wide range of options for you and your customers to choose from. December 18th is the deadline for both Second Class mail in the UK and the USPS First Class Mail service in the US. The deadline for US Priority Mail is the next day and the 19th December is also the deadline for UK retailers using the Hermes Courier Collection service. Retailers in the UK using the Royal Mail First Class mail and Hermes Standard Parcelshop have a little bit more time with the deadline on Monday 21st December.
Once these deadlines have passed, we’re into Christmas Week itself with the big day falling on a Friday this year. We can expect the usual last-minute rush, but this year will be complicated by the challenges of COVID-19 and pressured by the extra demands that will be placed on digital channels. In the home stretch it pays to be on top of all the shipping details. Even with just a few days left until Christmas, many shoppers are going to want to avoid the shops and to use digital channels if they possibly can. In some areas it may not even be possible to visit the shops so it’s vital to plan for any eventuality.
Monday 21st December is the deadline for UPS’s 3 Day Select option if you want those purchases to arrive before Christmas. This is also the deadline for FedEx Express Saver and FedEx 3Day Freight. On the following day of the 22nd both the FedEx 2Day Services and USP 2nd Day Air Services are an option. Tuesday 22nd is also the deadline for Hermes Next Day Parcelshop, Royal Mail Tracker 24 and Parcel Force Express, 48 and Two-Day services in the UK.
Wednesday 23rd December really is the final cut-off for all shipping if you want to offer that all-important delivery guarantee and avoid disappointment. All the main providers offer a next-day service with Priority Mail Express from USPS, Overnight Services from FedEx and Next Day Air Services from UPS. In the UK you can also choose from Royal Mail Special Delivery and Parcel Force’s Timed, Express and Next Day services. Don’t expect these options to be the cheapest of course, but sometimes you can’t put a price on that gift arriving just in time for Christmas.
The Holiday shopping season can be an anxious time, but careful planning can help us all navigate smoothly through to Christmas Eve. Throughout this period, it’s important to communicate clearly with your customers and shippers to avoid misunderstandings and to minimise any stress. For real emergencies FedEx SameDay services will be operating in the UK and US all Christmas Eve and even on Christmas Day itself. But we hope by this day sellers will be enjoying a well-earned rest over Christmas, reflecting on all the challenges overcome in 2020 and looking forward to opportunities in the New Year.
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