Last Minute Holiday Shipping and Fulfillment Tips

Independent businesses enjoyed a record-breaking BFCM weekend, as consumers came out in droves to show support for their favorite small businesses. Now comes the hard part—getting all those orders into your customers' hands in time for the holidays. 

With supply chain disruptions and shipping delays stemming from lockdowns earlier this year, it's crucial you do some upfront work to prevent shipping delays. 

Ideally, you would have mapped out your holiday shipping strategy weeks ago, but if not, here are a few simple, last-minute tips to ensuring your orders arrive home for the holidays: 

1. Pay attention to holiday shipping carrier deadlines 

Whether you had record-breaking sales or you sold on a smaller scale, you’ll still need to get your products out to your customers in their expected timeframe. As you may have experienced earlier this year, shipping carrier deadlines were impacted over the last several months due to the spike in e-commerce orders. While you won’t be able to predict shipping carrier delays, you can do your best to meet carrier deadlines and stay informed of any updates they make available.  

Every holiday season, carriers update their shipping deadlines to ensure delivery prior to specific holidays and dates.

Note: These dates are estimates. Actual delivery dates may be affected by slowdowns caused by increased package volume and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Courier Shipping option Deadline
UPS UPS® Ground December 15, 2020
UPS 3 Day Select® December 21, 2020
UPS 2nd Day Air® December 22, 2020
UPS Next Day Air® December 23, 2020
DHL Express DHL are not releasing shipping deadlines for DHL Express this year. N/A
USPS First-Class Package Service® December 18, 2020
First-Class Mail® December 18, 2020
Priority Mail® December 19, 2020
Priority Mail Express® December 23, 2020
For USPS deadlines on shipments to international and military addresses see here
Canada Post All domestic services Use the Canada Post delivery standard tool
Priority™ Worldwide to the US December 21, 2020
Xpresspost™ U.S. December 11, 2020
Expedited Parcel™ to the US December 8, 2020
Tracked Packets™ / Small Packets™ to the US December 7, 2020
For Canada Post deadlines on shipments to other international destinations see here.
Domestic long-haul deliveries December 3, 2020
Domestic short-haul deliveries December 14, 2020
Domestic same-city deliveries December 17, 2020
International to Canada November 25, 2020
International to the US and rest of the world December 2, 2020
International to the United Kingdom December 11, 2020
International to New Zealand December 15, 2020

💡TIP: At the time of publishing some deadlines may have come and gone.  If you’ve missed a deadline, be candid with your customers and communicate any potential delays with them.

2. Streamline your fulfillment and shipping process

Once you’ve reviewed the shipping deadlines for each carrier, it’s time to prioritize your order fulfillment accordingly. Organizing and prioritizing your orders can help you get products to your customers faster, without missing any deadlines. If you’re a Shopify customer, you can add tags to each order indicating the shipping provider and deadline. From there, you can use the orders list to filter by deadline, then select multiple orders and fulfill. Another way to prioritize unfulfilled orders is to organize by delivery method (local, standard, expedited) or by order date (oldest to newest).

To make this process even faster, consider using bulk fulfillment workflows in Shopify. For example, once you’ve decided on the orders you want to fulfill, you can buy and create Shopify shipping labels in bulk if you are in the US, Canada or Australia. You can also print packing slips for the orders you wish to fulfill that day, all at once.

Additionally, you may want to organize your fulfillment area, so your products, packing slips, packaging, and shipping labels are in an assembly line ready to be packaged and shipped. Once you are ready to ship, get your shipping provider to pick up the packages, so you don’t waste time dropping packages off yourself at the post office.  

💡TIP: Check out this video with five more ways to optimize the fulfillment process. 

3. Offer local delivery and pickup to extend your holiday selling season

We all know someone who waits until the last minute to start their holiday shopping. And we also know someone who finishes their shopping weeks in advance but keeps buying “little things” right up until December 25th.  Being dependent on shipping carrier deadlines, it’s hard to keep selling to those last minute shoppers and get their packages to them in time for the holiday.  Of course, you could ship using expedited shipping methods, but that can also be costly.  

Local delivery and local or curbside pickup are great ways to satisfy your local shoppers who are looking for last-minute holiday gifts. These alternate delivery methods started as a lifeline to help merchants early in the pandemic but have proven to be critical for business owners looking to connect with their nearby customers, increase sales, and provide a great customer experience. It also lets customers support their local businesses while staying safe and saving on shipping costs. A win-win for all involved!

Both local delivery and pickup are easy to set up in your Shopify store.  Once you’re set up, consider the logistics of how you will make your products available for pickup and delivery.  Whatever strategy you choose, make sure to communicate with your loyal customers - add banners to your website, signs in your storefront windows, email and social media!

4. Prepare for an influx of returns

Typically National Returns Day—the day buyers return the most orders back to sellers—falls on January 2, but given the extended holiday shopping season, we expect a higher volume of returns between mid-November to mid-January. The average rate of returns over the holidays is typically 30%, which is a 10% increase compared to the rest of the year. Some experts believe the return rate will be even higher this holiday season, since most shoppers were unable to browse, test and inquire about products in-person. Apparel is believed to be the industry most susceptible to a higher return rate. 

To prepare for “return season,” get familiar with managing returns in Shopify. Once your customer has made a request to return the product as per your return policy, you can follow a simple step-by step-workflow to process the return right from the order details page. With returns in Shopify, you can keep track of return reasons, create return shipping labels, track shipping, issue a refund, and restock your inventory. For more advanced return management capabilities, Return Magic and Returnly are also available in the Shopify app store.

If you’ve been leveraging Local Delivery or BOPIS, consider using these delivery methods to manage your returns. You can avoid additional return shipping charges by locally picking up returned products or incentivizing your customers to return the product in store or curbside. You can still issue your customer a refund in Shopify, once the product has been received. 

💡TIP: Haven’t set up a return policy yet? Check out our guide.

Take care of yourself, your team, and your community

After a whirlwind BFCM weekend, nothing slaps you back to reality than spending December fulfilling and shipping all those orders in time for the holidays. We hope the tips above make this work feel more manageable. 

And as a final note, we'll leave you with these self-care tips for small business owners. As entrepreneurs it's easy to get overwhelmed and overworked—don't forget to nurture yourselves, too!