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Last Minute Holiday Shipping and Fulfillment Tips

Experts predict that 2021 will be another record-breaking holiday selling season. According to Deloitte, holiday sales are projected to total $1.3 trillion from November to January, with ecommerce sales in particular growing 11% to 15% from last year. Amongst higher than usual sales volumes, there is still the nitty-gritty work of order fulfillment and delivery.  

We’re still seeing supply chain disruptions and shipping delays this season. Shipping strikes, labor shortages, limited shipping containers, freight and port congestion, and higher order volumes have caused shipping carriers to operate well above capacity, causing major delays when it comes to shipping products to customers. It’s crucial to do some upfront work to mitigate these delays, so you can get products to customers ahead of the holidays and keep them happy.

Ideally, you would have mapped out your holiday shipping strategy weeks ago, but if not, here are a few simple last-minute tips to ensure your orders get into your eager customers’ hands by the holidays:

1. Meet shipping carrier deadlines to ensure packages arrive before December 25

Whether you have record-breaking sales or you sell on a smaller scale, you’ll still need to get your products out to your customers in the expected timeframe. As you may have experienced, shipping carrier deadlines have been impacted due to the spike in ecommerce orders and a number of other factors. 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.

Shipping carrier Service Cut-off date
UPS UPS Ground See for details
3 Day Select Dec. 21, 2021
2nd Day Air Dec. 22, 2021
Next Day Air Dec. 23, 2021
DHL Express DHL Express See for details
USPS First-Class Mail Dec. 17, 2021
First Class Package Service Dec. 17, 2021
Priority Mail Dec. 18, 2021
Priority Mail Express Dec. 23, 2021
Mail services to international and military destinations Review USPS’s holiday shipping deadlines
Canada Post Domestic deliveries Review Canada Post’s delivery standards tool
Tracked Packets and Small Packets to the US Dec. 9, 2021
Expedited Parcel to the US Dec. 13, 2021
Xpresspost to the US Dec. 16, 2021
International destinations Review Canada Post’s holiday sending guide
Domestic long-haul deliveries Dec. 3, 2021
Domestic short-haul deliveries Dec. 10, 2021
Domestic same-city deliveries Dec. 13, 2021
International to Canada Dec. 6, 2021
International to the US Dec. 6, 2021
International to New Zealand
Dec. 10, 2021
International to New Zealand Dec. 10, 2021

 Learn more about ship-by dates for the 2021 holiday season.

NOTE: If you’ve missed a deadline, be candid with your customers and communicate any potential delays with them. Learn more tips for shipping products over the holiday season.

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 from one view, if you are in the US, Canada, Australia, or the UK. You can also print packing slips for the orders you wish to fulfill that day, all at once.

You might 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 them off at the post office yourself.  

👀 Check out this video for five more ways to optimize the fulfillment process.

3. Extend your holiday selling season with local delivery and pickup

We all know someone who waits until the last minute to start their holiday shopping. And we also all know someone who finishes their shopping weeks in advance but keeps buying “little things” right up until December 24. 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 local shoppers 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’ll make your products available for pickup and delivery.  Whatever strategy you choose, make sure to communicate it with your loyal customers: add banners to your website, put signs in your storefront windows, and utilize email and social media.

4. Accommodate order changes

It’s not uncommon for shoppers to make mistakes while shopping online. Sometimes they click Pay too quickly, only realizing after the fact that they forgot to add a discount code, picked the wrong product size or color, or missed an item in their cart. As a merchant, it can be helpful to use order notifications so your shoppers have a record of what they purchased after checking out. They can review their order and double check if any mistakes were made. Order notifications also automatically keep your customers in the loop on the status of their order throughout the entire fulfillment process, including order received, out for delivery, and delivered. 

If a mistake was made, you can create a better and more memorable experience by fixing their order for them before fulfilling it, which ultimately reduces the likelihood of a return later on. Use order editing in Shopify to add or remove order items, adjust quantities of existing items, and apply discounts. Once the change has been made, Shopify makes it easy to charge or refund your customer and automatically notifies them once the change has been made.

5. 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 in December, January, and February. The average rate of returns over the holidays is typically 30%, which is a 10% increase compared to the rest of the year. Returns have become a critical part of the buying process, and most shoppers won’t purchase a gift, unless there is the option to return it. Apparel is believed to be the industry most likely to experience a high 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 and automatically email return shipping labels to your customer, track shipping, issue a refund, and restock your inventory. 

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. 

Haven’t set up a return policy yet? Head over to our guide.

Take care of yourself, your team, and your community

We’ll say it again: 2021 has been quite the year! It has shown us the resilience of small businesses and that, despite the ups and downs, you have been able to pivot and keep going. So we close by wishing you a happy holiday season—however you celebrate. We thank you, and celebrate your passion and your strength.