More shoppers are “clicking their way” through holiday shopping lists, loading up carrier trucks, and getting items delivered directly to their doorsteps. UPS estimates it shipped over 750 million packages in 2017. USPS had similar volumes, noting they shipped around 850 million packages during the holiday season. As a result, retailers are under intense pressure to not only deliver, but also deliver high volumes, and do it faster. It’s a tall order to fill.

The ease of online shopping has contributed to the high number of packages delivered during the holidays. What’s more, holiday shopping estimates are growing. In fact, worldwide holiday online sales reached $108 billion last year, up from $94 billion in 2016. More shoppers are opting out of brick-and-mortar shopping experiences and instead turning to their smartphones, tablets, laptops and even voice-activated services, such as Amazon Alexa. Many retailers wonder how they can do better with this increased pressure. Check out these holiday shipping tips for parcel shippers.

1. Get a List of Shipping Deadlines Early

Customers may be shopping for that perfect gift now, but not all of them are ready to place an order. Some procrastinate for days, until finally they must make a move. The goal of retailers should be getting these last-minute shoppers to order sooner – and it starts with understanding shipping deadlines.

What carrier does your retailer use? Or do you use multiple carriers – a mix of FedEx, UPS, and USPS? Regardless, each carrier publishes a list of delivery deadlines that helps communicate expectations to customers. Find strategic places to put “order by” dates on your website, such as the home page and banners on various pages. For example, you might say, “Order by December XX to get your gift by Christmas.” Giant retailer Amazon typically informs customers at checkout if their item will arrive in time for Christmas.

Determine the correct order-by dates by understanding critical cutoffs for each carrier. Check out this list of deadlines for major carriers, including UPS, FedEx and USPS.


December 14th – Deadline for FedEx Ground shipments.

December 17th – Deadline for FedEx Home Delivery shipments.

December 19th – Deadline for FedEx Express Saver shipments.

December 20th – Deadline for FedEx 2Day and 2Day A.M. shipments.

December 21st – Deadline for FedEx Standard Overnight, Priority Overnight and First Overnight shipments.

December 25th – Deadline for FedEx SameDay shipments.


Monday, December 17th UPS 2nd Day Air packages picked up today are scheduled for delivery on Thursday, December 20th. UPS 3 Day Select packages picked up today are scheduled for delivery on Friday, December 21st.

Tuesday, December 18th – UPS 2nd Day Air packages picked up on this date are scheduled for delivery on Friday, December 21st. UPS 3 Day Select packages are scheduled for delivery on Monday, December 24th.

Thursday, December 20th – Mark this date on your calendar because it’s the last day to ship UPS 2nd Day Air packages for delivery on Monday, December 24th.

Friday, December 21 – This is the last day to ship UPS Next Day Air packages for delivery on Monday, December 24th. UPS Next Day Air service may also be available for delivery on Saturday, December 22nd. However, these packages must be processed and labeled for Saturday delivery, which is not available in all ZIP codes.

Saturday, December 22nd – Delivery of UPS Worldwide Express, UPS Next Day Air and UPS 2nd Day Air packages are processed and labeled for Saturday delivery.

Sunday, December 23rd – No UPS Pickup or delivery service is available. However, UPS Express Critical service is available.

Monday, December 24th – Pickup service is available only for Air and International Air packages if pre-arranged by Thursday, December 20th.

Tuesday, December 25th – This is a UPS holiday, and no UPS pickup or delivery service is available.

2. Evaluate Strategies for Shipping Faster

More efficient shipping strategies should also include areas such as fulfillment. The sooner you get items on trucks, the better. The key to accomplishing this is to react to orders with greater speed. Set a goal to get orders out the door within 12 hours of when they are placed.

Ideally, retailers should look at last year’s fulfillment processes. Are there areas for improvement? Do inefficiencies exist, and if so, are there ways to improve these areas prior to the holidays? Even if you get a late start on looking at this area, there are still steps you can take to drive improvement. Minor improvements in workflow efficiency can add up and produce better results. Strike the right balance between quick fulfillment and keeping accuracy high to drive faster shipping this holiday season.

3. Ensure That Stock Issues Don’t Slow Down Shipping

One area that slows down shipping is inadequate stock during the holidays. As a result, the retailer must wait until new stock comes in, which adds to shipping cost, either for the customer or for the retailer – both of which are bad. Even worse, the customer might decide to order from a completely different retailer, resulting in lost sales.

Solve this problem by getting a jump start on estimating stocking needs for the holidays using data from the previous year and sales forecasts for 2018. Innovative tools and technology can help you evaluate the previous holiday season and forecast adequate inventories to ensure that all items are ready to ship and no rush shipping charges are incurred due to supply issues.

4. Build Promotions to Reduce the Need for Last-Minute Shipping

Late orders put stress on carriers and retailers. It’s true that you can’t make customers order early, but you can entice them to get a jump start on shopping. As a result, more time is allowed for shipping and less money is spent on rush shipping.

One strategy for accomplishing this is to carefully redesign holiday promotions. In the past, some retailers held sales the last week before Christmas. This is a good strategy for capturing last-minute sales, but a bad strategy for increasing strain on shipping at the last minute. Consider holding big promotions in the middle of December instead of the week before Christmas, to encourage shoppers to place orders early and give shippers more time to deliver.

5. Look for Ways to Operate More Efficiently

The Amazon Effect has changed the way in which customers think about shipping. In the past, people expected to pay shipping costs and factored these expenses into their budgets. But with the introduction of free shipping and then Amazon Prime, expectations around shipping have changed, and this drives up costs for retailers.

Those that ship large volumes can leverage innovative technologies to manage those costs, which allow them to provide the free shipping that customers expect while managing costs internally. For example, invoice audit software allows retailers to see where they’re overspending on shipping and find more effective ways to manage those costs.

6. Package Safely

The holidays are filled with expectations, and one of those expectations is that a package will arrive on time and without damage. Carriers are moving a lot of packages, and even with their best efforts, there are times when packages get damaged. The culprit of these damages is often improper packaging materials, and if a carrier determines this was the cause, they may not replace the item. This puts increased pressure on retailers to package items for maximum protection around the holidays.

Proper packaging starts with strong boxes. Having a single crease in a box can diminish a box’s strength by as much as 70 percent. Most parcel shippers provide some level of internal packaging, even if the item isn’t delicate, but picking the right packaging is key. For example, each item should be surrounded by at least two inches of cushioning and placed two inches or more away from the walls of the box.

That way, if the box walls encounter damage, the item is still safe and undamaged inside. Using approved packing materials, such as packing peanuts and bubble cushion, is a good starting point. Make sure that a package doesn’t rattle and can’t be shifted around, to reduce risk of damage.

7. Factor in Shipping for Returns

The holiday season is a high-volume time for all retailers, but along with this spike in sales comes an increase in returns. What’s more, it’s critical to plan for the inefficiency and expenses associated with post-holiday returns. Even if you do everything right – provide great service and ship in time – the recipient may simply not like the gift, or need a different product.

Nobody is at fault, but your company still has to deal with shipping returns. The more that you can automate the process, the easier it will be. Provide pre-printed return labels and specific packing instructions to streamline the process. Select a fast and reasonably priced shipping option to minimize costs and meet demands, while keeping customers happy.

Shipping with Greater Efficiency

Shipping is a critical factor that lies between creating a positive customer experience and growing revenue in the future. Carriers are under intense pressure during the holidays, which is why it’s key to put processes in place that improve shipping speed while adding to the customer experience. This is critical because bad feelings associated with late shipments trickle down to retailers, even when they’re not at fault.

The result might be not only the loss of a customer, but also the negative reviews that customer might share about your retailer with others. In fact, 82 percent of consumers proactively seek referrals from peers before making a purchase, and when you have stories about bad holiday shipping experiences spreading within peer-to-peer comments, the outcome may be serious.

Retailers can improve relationships with customers this season by looking for weaknesses in their fulfillment and shipping process, and working to fix those inefficiencies. Do you offer free shipping? Great. Most customers demand it. But the strategies that you use to offer free shipping may kill your bottom line. Seek innovative technology that helps improve efficiency and free up valuable shipping dollars – minimizing rush orders and evolving the customer experience.

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.