Holiday Shipping Deadlines to Know to Ensure Your Gifts Arrive On Time | Spending
Shipping experts have one message for consumers heading into the holiday season: Don’t wait to mail your packages.
“From a sheer volume perspective, we’re expecting a record-breaking holiday season,” says Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express, Americas. Normally, peak shipping occurs from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, but according to Parra, “We have been in what we would call peak season since June of this year.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant people worldwide have been staying home and shopping online in greater numbers. To meet demand, shipping companies have added workers, explored new automations and expanded facilities and hours.
“You have a network that has been doing its best for a record level of volume,” says Gregg Zegras, executive vice president and president of global e-commerce for Pitney Bowes, a firm that provides shipping equipment and services. Companies have been able to maintain customer trust too, with 63% of those surveyed in a recent Pitney Bowes’ and Morning Consult’s BOXpoll saying they have faith in retailers to follow through on promised delivery dates.
However, carriers can only deliver packages on time if they have been shipped on time. Avoid heartbreak on Christmas morning by knowing your shipping options and when items need to get into the mail.
Shipping Deadlines for Major Carriers
Consumers who need to mail holiday packages can choose from several shipping companies. In most cases, both standard and expedited delivery services are available.
“Procrastination is going to be expensive,” says Natalie Kotlyar, retail and consumer products national leader for financial firm BDO USA. Expect to pay at least three times as much for expedited service from many carriers. Plus, there is the possibility that even expedited services could face delays. “The volume (of mail) is certainly going to affect everyone,” Kotlyar adds.
Despite competition from shipping companies, the United States Postal Service remains a popular choice for package deliveries. In 2019, it delivered 6.2 billion packages, according to the 2020 Postal Facts Companion. “The Post Office is a very trusted and reliable (shipping) partner,” Zegras says.
To ensure packages arrive by Christmas, the USPS recommends mailing by the following dates, depending on the service used:
- USPS Retail Ground Service: Dec. 15.
- First-Class Mail Service: Dec. 18.
- Priority Mail Service: Dec. 19.
- Priority Mail Express Service: Dec. 23.
If you will be shipping from the contiguous states to Alaska, first-class mail should be shipped by Dec. 18, Priority Mail by Dec. 19 and Priority Mail Express by Dec. 21. Packages to Hawaii should be mailed by Dec. 15 for first-class and Priority Mail services, while Priority Mail Express can be shipped as late as Dec. 21 for Christmas delivery.
While Priority Mail Express gives consumers extra days to get gifts in the mail, it comes at a cost. Retail ground service starts at $7.50, but Priority Mail Express has a starting rate of $26.35.
Delivery company FedEx offers more than a dozen shipping options, ranging from ground delivery that can take up to seven days for arrival within the United States to same-day service that is available across all 50 states.
- FedEx Ground/Home Delivery: Dec. 15.
- FedEx Express Saver: Dec. 21.
- FedEx 2Day: Dec. 22.
- FedEx Overnight: Dec. 23.
- FedEx SameDay: Dec. 25.
As with USPS, you’ll pay a premium to use an expedited service. Sending a 1 pound package from New York City to Los Angeles is currently priced at $11.66 for FedEx Home Delivery. But if you want that package delivered by 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, it will cost $120.28 for FedEx First Overnight delivery. If delivery can wait 12 hours, the price drops to $80.70 for FedEx Standard Overnight.
United Parcel Service, known for its signature boxy brown trucks, is another popular shipping carrier. The company won’t be making any regular deliveries on Christmas Day, so you’ll want to adhere to the following deadlines to ensure packages arrive by Dec. 24.
- UPS Ground: Dec. 15.
- UPS 3 Day Select: Dec. 21.
- UPS 2nd Day Air: Dec. 22.
- UPS Next Day Air: Dec. 23.
Shipping rates depend on the size of the package, destination and service selected. Ground rates for a small package shipped within the contiguous 48 states start at $10.75 for UPS Ground service and go to $31 for UPS Next Day Air. For shipments to Alaska and Hawaii, rates for a small package are $32.65 for ground service or $35.50 for 2nd Day Air for destinations in metro areas or $42.15 and $66.70, respectively, for addresses in remote areas.
Although able to ship packages domestically, DHL Express specializes in door-to-door international deliveries made to and from the U.S. The company’s quick express service can deliver to 220 countries and territories, with packages arriving within 24 to 72 hours, depending on the destination, according to Parra.
To ensure international delivery in time for Christmas, send packages via DHL Express no later than Dec. 18. In order to handle the influx of mail, the company has added 3,000 jobs to its workforce this year, extended delivery days to Saturdays and Sundays and increased access points, including pop-up retail locations in malls, where consumers can conveniently ship packages.
Pricing for DHL Express deliveries depends on the destination.
Shipping Deadlines for Major Retailers
Some customers aren’t as worried about sending packages as they are about receiving them in time for the holidays. To avoid the anxiety of wondering whether your gifts will arrive on time, Kotlyar suggests using the option to buy online and pick up in store, if available.
Walmart shoppers have access to free shipping for online orders of at least $35. Purchases costing less than that amount incur a $5.99 shipping charge. Depending on the item and your location, shipments may be made using one of the following methods:
- Standard delivery of three to five days.
- Two-day shipping.
- NextDay, available in qualifying ZIP codes.
If you plan to use the two-day shipping option, be aware the service is only available in the 48 contiguous states, and shipments arrive in two business days, not calendar days. Plus, there is a 2 p.m. cut-off based on the recipient’s ZIP code. That means a purchase made at 5 p.m. on Friday won’t arrive until the following Wednesday.
Customers buying holiday gifts from Target.com this year should plan on a standard shipping time of three to five days. While the retailer normally offers two-day shipping, that service is currently on hold “due to nationwide shipping delays,” according to the company’s website.
Shipping is free for customers paying with a Target RedCard or making a qualifying purchase of at least $35.
The Home Depot
Purchases of at least $45 are eligible for free standard shipping from Home Depot. Customers should allow three to five business days for parcel ground delivery in addition to order processing time, according to the company’s website.
Many products are also eligible for two-day shipping, “although there may be delays due to high demand and inventory availability.” Customers should check their account for order status and expected delivery date. Free curbside or store pickup is also an option at Home Depot.
With a fleet of its own delivery trucks, online retailer Amazon appears to be uniquely positioned to ensure packages arrive on time this holiday season. The company offers the following delivery options in the contiguous United States.
- Standard delivery in four to five business days.
- Two-day shipping.
- One-day shipping.
One-day shipping may be limited to certain areas, and both one- and two-day shipping reflect business days, not calendar days. For deliveries to Alaska and Hawaii, expect purchases to take three to seven days for standard shipping, two to five days for expedited shipping and one to four days for priority shipping.
“Certainly, Amazon has taken some of it into their own hands with their own (delivery service),” Kotlyar says. However, it is still wise to place orders as early as possible.
Depending on their location, Macy’s customers may be able to make purchases as late as Dec. 24 and still get items in time for Christmas. The department store has the following recommended shipping deadlines:
- Standard and premium shipping: Dec. 18.
- Express shipping: Dec. 18 by 12 p.m. EST.
- Same-day delivery (select areas only): Dec. 24 by 10 a.m. local time.
- In-store or curbside pickup: Dec. 24 by 3 p.m. local time.
Premium shipping costs an extra $10, while express delivery is a $15 upgrade. Purchases should be made by Dec. 14 for standard shipping to Alaska and Hawaii, or by Dec.15 for express shipping to destinations in those states.
As with other retailers, Macy’s makes no guarantees, and deliveries could be delayed by adverse weather, natural disasters or other events. This is all the more reason to listen to shipping experts who say to shop and ship holiday gifts early to avoid one more disappointment in 2020.