For several years, holiday shoppers have worried about their gifts arriving late because of overloaded shipping services. That anxiety proved well-founded in 2019, when the percentage of on-time holiday deliveries by FedEx and UPS fell sharply from the year before.
But this year, things could be even worse because of the pandemic, which has pushed many people to shop online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores. Online spending rose 22% on Black Friday, the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving, compared to 2019. That’s well ahead of pre-pandemic annual growth of 14%.
Delivery companies are going to great lengths to prevent delays, but there are already signs that they’ll be unable to handle the extra load. UPS is limiting deliveries from some commercial clients, and both FedEx and UPS have suspended their money-back guarantees for on-time shipping, citing the pandemic.
That means their shipping timelines are guaranteed by good faith—but not by cash.
For all those reasons, experts advise people to be suspect of shipping deadlines this year—especially two-day or overnight options closer to Christmas.
“The earlier you buy, the more guaranteed you are to get it,” says Brendan Keegan, CEO of logistics company Merchants Fleet. “If you order Dec. 23 and you’re expecting it Dec. 24, you could be disappointed.”
Another way to improve the odds: If you’re buying gifts for local friends and family, consider picking up online orders at stores. Best Buy, Walmart, Apple, and many other retailers with brick-and-mortar outlets offer curbside pickup, which will help with your peace of mind and free up truck space for others.
Here are the deadlines for getting packages or online orders delivered by Dec. 24. They generally apply to mainland U.S. orders and deliveries.
Dec. 15 – UPS Ground
Dec. 21 – UPS 3 Day Select
Dec. 22 – UPS 2nd Day Air
Dec. 23 – UPS Next Day Air
Dec. 15: FedEx Ground and Home Delivery
Dec. 21: FedEx Express Saver
Dec. 22: FedEx 2Day
Dec. 23: FedEx Standard and Priority Overnight
A full list of FedEx’s service options can be found here. FedEx also shares updates about regional shipping delays, which could increase as we get closer to the holidays.
U.S. Postal Service
Dec. 15: USPS Retail Ground
Dec. 18: First-Class Mail
Dec. 19: Priority Mail
Dec. 23: Priority Mail Express
Dec. 23: One-Day Delivery for eligible items (free for Prime members)
Dec. 24: Same-Day Delivery for eligible items (free for Prime members in eligible areas on orders over $35)
Dec. 24: Two-hour grocery delivery (exclusive to Prime members in select cities)
(Note that Amazon has not provided cutoffs or guarantees for customers who are not Prime members)
Apple’s order deadlines vary widely depending on the product ordered, ranging from Dec. 8 deadline for the Mac Pro to Dec. 22 for recent iPhone models. Consult Apple’s website for details.
Barnes & Noble
Dec. 16: Free shipping for members
Dec. 22: Expedited shipping
Dec. 21: Next-day shipping
Dec. 6: Orders including monogramming or other customization
Dec. 19: Free or express shipping for most non-customized orders
More details at L.L. Bean’s website.
Dec. 18: Standard and premium shipping
Dec. 24: Same-day shipping (select areas only) and store pickup
See more details at Macy’s website.
We will update this article with more information as it becomes available. Amazon deadlines added 12/16.