Last year was a record-breaking holiday season for retailers, as they posted their best holiday season since 2011. Total retail sales in the U.S. climbed 5.5 percent in November and December, aided by a 17.8 percent increase in retail e-commerce sales. What’s more, customer confidence in the U.S. economy is at its highest since 2000. Customers are shopping more and spending more at brick-and-mortar locations and online. Fueled by growth in mobile shopping and the advent of voice-activated assistants such as Alexa, customers are experiencing an unprecedented ease in the holiday shopping experience.

The stakes during the holidays have never been higher for retailers. This season accounts for as much as 30 percent of annual sales. The time frame for achieving these maximum profits spans only several weeks, leaving retailers to constantly look for better and more powerful strategies to capture a greater piece of the revenue pie. A key strategy for accomplishing these goals is mastering shipping.

Unlike other times of the year, shoppers are under intense deadlines during the holidays. Not having that perfect gift in time to give a friend or family member creates bad feelings toward the retailer – feelings that are difficult to repair. So what are the 2018 holiday shipping deadlines, and how can you be better prepared this season?

FedEx Holiday Shipping Dates

FedEx is a popular carrier choice during the holiday season, especially when retailers need packages to arrive fast. Shipping deadlines will depend largely on what service is selected and how urgently that parcel needs to be delivered.

See below for general guidelines to help select the best option for getting packages to their destination on time:

  • December 14 – Deadline for FedEx Ground shipments.
  • December 17 – Deadline for FedEx Home Delivery shipments.
  • December 19 – Deadline for FedEx Express Saver shipments.
  • December 20 – Deadline for FedEx 2Day and 2Day A.M. shipments.
  • December 21 – Deadline for FedEx Standard Overnight, Priority Overnight and First Overnight shipments.
  • December 25 – Deadline for FedEx SameDay shipments.

One unique option that FedEx offers is same-day shipping on Christmas Day. The FedEx SameDay option is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for urgent, last-minute requests. The expense is high, so this option is good for special situations.

For example, let’s say you shipped an item and for some reason the customer didn’t receive it. The details on why can be sorted out later, but in the meantime, the customer doesn’t have the product. And if it doesn’t arrive before Christmas, the mistake will be unfixable in the mind of the customer. Same-day shipments are good for this type of urgent situation.

It’s important to note that FedEx doesn’t charge holiday surcharges on shipping; however, other surcharges may apply. For example, if extra handling is required, the shipping cost may increase by $3.20. See the full list of additional surcharges here.

Additionally, certain FedEx guarantees, such as those that apply to FedEx Ground, Express, and Freight, may not be available during peak holiday season. Check with your local FedEx carrier if you’re concerned about guarantees during this busy time of year.

UPS Holiday Shipping Dates

UPS is another common choice of retailers who want reliability and good tracking features. This carrier provides a variety of service options during the holidays, and by knowing shipping deadlines, retailers can better manage costs and expectations. Be sure to mark the following dates on your calendar. Even better, include “order by” dates on your website to encourage customers to order early and set expectations.

  • Monday, December 17 – UPS 2nd Day Air packages picked up today are scheduled for delivery on Thursday, December 20. UPS 3 Day Select packages picked up today are scheduled for delivery on Friday, December 21.
  • Tuesday, December 18 – UPS 2nd Day Air packages picked up on this date are scheduled for delivery on Friday, December 21. UPS 3 Day Select packages are scheduled for delivery on Monday, December 24.
  • Thursday, December 20 – Mark this date on your calendar because it’s the last day to ship UPS 2nd Day Air packages for delivery on Monday, December 24.
  • Friday, December 21 – This is the last day to ship UPS Next Day Air packages for delivery on Monday, December 24. UPS Next Day Air service may also be available for delivery on Saturday, December 22. However, packages must be processed and labeled for Saturday delivery, which is not available for all zip codes.
  • Saturday, December 22 – Delivery of UPS Worldwide Express, UPS Next Day Air and UPS 2nd Day Air packages are processed and labeled for Saturday delivery.
  • Sunday, December 23 – No UPS pickup or delivery service is available. However, UPS Express Critical service is available.
  • Monday, December 24 – Pickup service is available only for air and international air packages if pre-arranged by Thursday, December 20.
  • Tuesday, December 25 – UPS is closed for the holiday, and no UPS pickup or delivery service is available.

If you want to better understand timing and costs, you can also refer to this UPS tool, which helps to determine exact turnaround times based on specific shipping details. It’s also important to note that, unlike the other carriers, UPS charges peak season surcharges during the holidays. These fees are in effect from November 19 to December 28.

You can find the exact surcharges based on geographic locations and shipping details here. On a per-package basis, the charge is minimal. However, for large-volume shippers, these costs may quickly add up, especially in cases of “free shipping” offers. Consider potential costs to determine which shipping option is best for your customer and your bottom line.

USPS Holiday Shipping Dates

The United States Postal Service has gotten much better in terms of services offered and reliability in recent years. What’s more, it’s very cost effective for smaller packages. In an age when “the Amazon Effect” is driving up the cost of shipping for retailers, low-cost and efficient shipping methods are key to staying competitive.

  • December 14: USPS Retail Ground 2018 Cutoff
  • December 20: First-Class Mail Cutoff (including Alaska and Hawaii)
  • December 20: Priority Mail Cutoff (including Alaska and Hawaii)
  • December 22: Priority Mail Express Cutoff (including Alaska and Hawaii)

USPS does not currently charge holiday surcharges. Additionally, the carrier does not use dimensional weight pricing for packages, which is a common pricing model with other carriers. As a result, costs may be lower because there are no extra fees for residential delivery or fuel, which creates a cost-effective solution for the holidays.

Tying It All Together: Which Shipping Option Is Best?

The first step to a successful holiday season is marking those shipping deadlines on your calendar and informing your customers about them. Doing so lets them know that they must order soon to get packages delivered on time, and receiving orders early helps your business prevent the last-minute rush that’s common with the holidays.

In addition to knowing your shipping dates, it’s also important to weigh the pros and cons of each carrier. Many retailers don’t use one single shipper; instead, they rely on a couple of them, depending on the shipping situation. See below for a quick summary of the pros and cons of each to select the right one for your shipping needs during the holiday seasons.


The major benefit of shipping with USPS is that it’s a low-cost option for small packages. USPS charges for weight only, which is beneficial if a customer’s package is small. If you’re shipping packages that weigh less than 13 ounces, USPS is often the best option. It’s reliable and ships to P.O. boxes, which other carriers do not. However, some retailers complain about the tracking system, finding that it has flaws.


The benefit of UPS is that it delivers secure and fast delivery with a high level of reliability. For example, it offers guaranteed express shipping, which is good for those last-minute packages that need delivery ASAP. USPS is often the best choice for smaller packages, but UPS is often a good choice for large shipments. Additionally, UPS is known for its user-friendly tracking options.

UPS, however, does not deliver to P.O. boxes and does not provide Saturday delivery as part of its basic services. If you need weekend delivery, there is an extra fee for that service. In contrast, USPS provides Saturday delivery at no extra cost.


FedEx and UPS are pretty similar; however, there are some differences. Similar to UPS, FedEx is known for its fast delivery and user-friendly tracking system. FedEx Delivery Manager can hold packages at a FedEx office or schedule delivery for a specific time. The carrier also offers Saturday delivery as part of its basic service. This is an important feature when every day counts, and on a weekend, it can get packages to customers much sooner. For example, an item might ship midweek and arrive on Monday with UPS, but with FedEx, it could arrive the Saturday before.

The drawback to FedEx is that shipping costs may be higher, depending on the specific details of the shipment. Additionally, there is no free package pickup service. FedEx also has fewer offices worldwide than UPS – 1,900 FedEx offices compared with over 5,000 UPS stores.

Finding the right shipping solution, whether it’s UPS, USPS or FedEx, isn’t a straightforward choice and depends on many variables. During the holiday season, delivery time is one of the largest variables. How quickly does the customer need the package? Are you footing the bill, or is the customer paying extra for expedited delivery? Understanding shipping deadlines and the pros and cons of each carrier option assists with making the decision that keeps your customers happy.

Additionally, innovative technology is helping retailers to minimize costs while maximizing efficiency. For example, invoice audit software identifies where you’re overspending and helps create efficiencies and savings in shipping. The software uses all the data that you collect and turns it into actionable insights – empowering you to make critical cost-saving decisions during the holidays.

Planning for a More Successful Holiday Season

The holidays are coming fast, and customers are working their way through holiday shopping lists right now. Finding the perfect gift is no easy task, and once a customer places an order, the stakes of delivering that item on time are high.

Amplifying this challenge is the fact that retailers are under intense pressure from the Amazon Effect, where the bar is set higher and free shipping is the norm. Customers want items fast, but they also demand free shipping. Retailers are rushing to fulfill order requests, get them to destinations faster, and do it all while managing shipping costs.

Understanding deadlines, knowing costs and constantly looking for ways to improve those costs, such as by using innovative technology, allows you to take control of the process and overdeliver at a time when the reward for doing so is very high.

About Shipware

Shipware delivers volume parcel and less-than-truckload shippers intelligent and innovative distribution solutions and strategies. Whether you ship with FedEx, UPS, USPS or regional carriers, our invoice audit and negotiation services are guaranteed to reduce your parcel and LTL shipping costs by 10 to 30 percent, with no disruption of current operations. Our team of experts has more than 200 years of carrier pricing experience. We have negotiated thousands of FedEx, UPS and LTL contracts – saving our clients an average of 19 percent.