Your Guide to Successful Holiday Shipping

The holiday shopping (and shipping) season has officially started. In fact, nearly half of holiday shoppers have already begun purchasing presents for family, friends, and let’s be honest, themselves. Not only that, but shoppers are expected to spend about 1.1 trillion this holiday season, which would be about 5% more than last year. That’s a lot of money, and a lot of stuff, that’s got to be shipped, whether it’s to stores, warehouses, or ultimately customers’ doorsteps.

And now that we’re staring down the barrel of the huge three-day shopping stretch that is Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, it’s as good a time as any to get your ducks in a row regarding fulfillment.

Our Top Tips for Smooth Holiday Shipping

1) Establish and Communicate “Order By” Deadlines

Consumers have a habit of waiting until the last minute to buy gifts. In fact, in 2016, nearly 30 percent of shoppers waited until the last moments to place their orders. And although it might be unreasonable to expect all those shipments to arrive on time given high shipping volumes and all the lovely, unexpected weather winter brings, that’s not the reality today’s consumers live in. When packages arrive late, they often blame retailers and suppliers – fair or not – which is why we suggest communicating your “order by” deadlines to consumers as early, and as clearly, as possible.

To come up with your “order by” deadline, calculate the amount of time it takes you to process and ship an order (hopefully just one or two days), then add that time to the shipping cutoff dates established by major carriers, which can be found below.

USPS Services Cutoff Date
Retail Ground Friday, December 14, 2018
First Class Mail Thursday, December 20, 2018
Priority Mail Thursday, December 20, 2018
Priority Mail Express Saturday, December 22, 2018


UPS Services Cutoff Date
Ground Friday, December 14, 2018
3-Day Select Tuesday, December 18, 2018
2nd Day Air Services Thursday, December 20, 2018
Next Day Air Services Saturday, December 22, 2018


FedEx Services Cutoff Date
SmartPost Services Monday, December 10, 2018
Ground Friday, December 14, 2018
Home Delivery Monday, December 17, 2018
Express Saver Wednesday, December 19, 2018
2Day Services Thursday, December 20, 2018
Overnight Services Friday, December 21, 2018

2) When Something Inevitably Goes Wrong, Be Prepared

Accidents, poor package handling, winter storms, and a variety of other unfortunate events can derail on-time deliveries. When this happens, it’s wise to have a plan in place that’s designed to keep your customers informed and happy – or at least not angry – about the delay.

Make it easy for customers to track their packages and receive updates by sending them tracking links and notifications on their shipments. Consider a service like Aftership, which allows you to direct customers to your website for tracking, and set up push and/or SMS notifications that make it easier for them to track packages. This also gives you a chance to get your brand back in front of their eyes, which can lead to future sales.

3) Offer Competitive Shipping Rates & Options

Free shipping is regularly listed as a major bonus for holiday shoppers. If you can swing it, try offering free standard shipping on all orders, or even qualified orders, to encourage new sales. You could also offer free or discounted rates on expedited packages for those 126 million or so shoppers who wait until just a couple days before Christmas to make their final purchases.

4) Automate A Previously Manual Process

The sheer volume of goods shipped during the holidays is staggering. The United Postal Service alone shipped 15 billion pieces of mail, and about 850 million packages during 2017’s holiday push – and part of that seasonal bump will be attributed to your operation.

To keep up with volume demands and tighter holiday turnarounds, consider automating parts of your shipping process. Automated label printing equipment, automated boxing and packaging products, and even automated pallet or parcel dimensioning solutions can help you boost productivity during the holidays and extend that productivity through the next year.

5) Set Up Easy Returns

A good number of seasonal sales are bound to become seasonal returns, which is why it’s important to have an effective returns process in place for customers. An easy returns process improves the customer experience and makes shoppers more likely to buy with you again. Here are a few things you can do make returning items a more pleasurable endeavor.

• Include return labels and implement reusable packaging materials

• Offer free return shipping within X number of days

• Offer automatic refunds

• Provide clearly-outlined return instructions on your website and with packages to put customers’ minds at ease

• Make sure everyone on your staff knows the returns process to avoid mistakes and delays


The holiday shipping season is hectic for everyone, no matter how prepared, but with these tips and little luck, this year will go smoother than your last.


For more articles like this, subscribe to our newsletter!

Was this article helpful?

Michael Eichenberg is the co-founder and CEO of FreightSnap, allowing the supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, distribution and transportation industries to measure, weigh, photograph and ID pallets and parcels in just seconds. Learn more and share your ideas on Facebook and LinkedIn.