Holiday shipping cutoff dates are one of the most vital elements of holiday shopping you need to provide your customers. 

By showing customers clear, accurate cutoff dates, you’ll increase the chance of giving them on-time delivery that results in a satisfying experience to keep them coming back all year round.

Holiday shopping in 2020 is expected to be slower, calmer, and quieter than any year in recent memory. With COVID-19 radically changing the lives of people across the globe, shopping as a whole has seen a significant transformation. 

The good news for ecommerce retailers is that holiday shopping will mostly be done online. Getting ahead of the game by providing crystal clear cutoff dates on every transaction can help elevate the experience your customers have with you. And boost holiday shopping conversions. 

Keep reading to learn more about what holiday shipping cutoff dates will mean for you, and your customers. 

What is a shipping cutoff date? 

Simply put, shipping cut off dates are a specific date that items need to be shipped to make it to a destination on time. In ecommerce, these dates have to factor in both lead times (the amount of time between ordering and the shipment going out) and transit days, or the number of days it takes to arrive. 

Accurately calculating delivery dates is crucial all year round, but for widely celebrated holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah, shipments arriving on or before a certain date is simply non-negotiable. Most of the year, retailers don’t have much of a reason for displaying specific cutoff dates on their site or within checkout since orders are placed all the time for all sorts of reasons. In the case of holiday gift buying, however, rigid dates drive the season, and heavily influence buying decisions. Therefore, it’s wise for all ecommerce retailers to show them during holiday shopping time. 

Typical Trends Might Be Going Awry 

Over the last decade, holiday shopping has shifted later and later in the year. Customers are becoming more dependent on ecommerce stores to fulfill their orders, all while expecting shorter shipping times and faster delivery. 

While it’s likely this trend will continue in 2020, given the currently chaotic climate many of us find ourselves in, it’s also likely that new and divergent trends will take hold. For example, since ecommerce spending has been up over 30% for most of 2020 already, many folks who’ve never shopped for holiday goods online before are likely to start. 

With the influx of these new shoppers and the absence of others who are financially strained and spending less in turn, it’s yet unclear how the industry will come out after the holiday season. Because of this, it’s vital that ecommerce retailers give customers who are shopping the best experience possible. This includes clear and accurate shipping details.

Major Carrier Cutoff Dates

Leading carriers including FedEx®, UPS™, and the USPS have each published their own guides on “Last Day to Ship” for the holiday season in 2020. The dates differ based on carrier and level of service. Be sure to backtrack for exactly the services you offer when calculating your own cutoff dates. Here are the general guidelines for 2020:

FexEx Holiday Cutoff Dates

FedEx Overnight® (All service levels) Wednesday, December 23
FedEx 2Day®Tuesday, December 22
FedEx Express Saver®Monday, December 21
FedEx Ground®Tuesday, December 15
FedEx SmartPost®Wednesday, December 9

UPS

UPS Ground ShippingWednesday, December 16
UPS Next Day AirFriday, December 18
UPS 2nd Day AirSaturday, December 18
UPS 3 Day SelectSunday, December 19 

USPS

USPS Priority Mail Express Next DayTuesday, December 22
Priority Mail 3-Day Monday, December 21
First-class MailMonday, December 21
USPS media mailFriday, December 16
USPS retail groundFriday, December 16

Retailer Cutoff Dates

While carrier cutoff dates are important, retailers must also take into account their own lead times. For retailers who create custom goods, lead times will be longer, possibly up to several weeks. For those who dropship items or have ready-to-ship inventory, lead times are shorter. It’s vital to be realistic about these timeframes for your own sake and your customers’. 

Keep in mind, though the industry has largely leveled out, much of the year has seen rampant delays and challenges for the logistics industry, and we’re not out of the woods yet. Carriers do everything they can to meet deadlines, but delays do occur at times, and it’s important to be prepared. To combat this, consider adding in an extra day or two of padding on your cutoff dates. 

Putting it into practice

For example, if you offer custom-made mugs, your lead time may typically be three days. Combined with your standard four-day transit time, it would seem reasonable to give customers a seven or eight-day delivery date. 

But with an influx of orders (even one that doesn’t match the rush of past years), you might fall behind. On top of that, you may get unlucky with a shipping delay. Because of these factors, you may want to consider giving your customers a 10-day delivery time. This means that for your mugs, you’d need to tell customers to order on or before Thursday, December 15. Not every ecommerce store can afford these extra days of padding, but the more flexibility you give yourself, the higher the chance of a great experience all around.

Remember, giving customers the positive shopping experiences they want from you this season could be as easy as communicating with them about when they should be ordering. 

Show customers clear and accurate cutoff dates, and you’ll delight your customers with timely delivery that will put your store at the top of their list for years to come.

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