Christmas Shipping Deadlines Loom as Gift Buyers Turn to Online Shopping: 'Shipageddon'

Tuesday is the last day people can buy gifts in the United States and expect packages to arrive by Dec. 24 with UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service ground shipping

shipping deadlines
Christmas gifts at a shipping center. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Still doing your Christmas shopping online? Better get moving if you want your gifts to arrive by Christmas Eve.

For those planning to use UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service's ground shipping for their Christmas gifts, Tuesday marks the last official day that orders can be placed online if you want the items to arrive by Dec. 24, CNBC reported.

Mail carriers were already swamped by the influx of orders this year, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced many consumers to turn to online shopping instead of going in-person in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

But now in recent days, with the approval of the COVID-19 vaccination, mail carriers have also been focused on distributing the vaccine nationwide, according to the outlet.

"The carriers are well-equipped to handle the needs of both the vaccine distribution and e-commerce shipping — not to mention the fact that both rely on very different parts of the UPS and FedEx infrastructure," Laura Behrens Wu, the CEO and co-founder of Shippo, a shipping software provider for e-commerce businesses, told CNBC.

"But if 2020 taught us anything, it's that merchants and consumers should prepare themselves for the unexpected," Wu added. "While a service disruption is unlikely, it's still a smart idea for retailers to stay on top of real time delivery trends and over communicate shipping statuses with customers."

amazon box; packages
Amazon box. Getty

According to CNBC, a record number of consumers have been buying gifts online this holiday season. Citing Adobe Analytics, the outlet reported that e-commerce sales are expected to rise by more than 30 percent this year.

Despite the major rise in orders, UPS CEO Carol Tomé told ShipMatrix that "UPS is running one of the most successful peak holiday shipping seasons ever."

The shipping operations outlet reported that on-time delivery rates for FedEx, UPS and USPS have all been above 95% since Oct. 1.

Jason Goldberg, the chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis Communications, also noted to CNBC that a large number of retailers pushed up their shipping deadlines by at least one to two days, while approximately 25% of them pushed them up by at least a week.

However, limits have been set on deliveries in recent weeks, by both mail carriers and retailers.

On Cyber Monday, UPS had to temporarily stop collecting orders from six major retailers including GAP, L.L. Bean Inc., Nike and Macy's, after the number of orders exceeded their delivery capacity, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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More recently, retailers began to notify customers of their own limitations, including H&M, which currently has a notice on its site that reads, "Attn: Orders placed today will not arrive by Christmas."

Bath & Body Works and Abercrombie & Fitch also won't be able to fulfill orders to arrive before Christmas, according to CNBC.

Other stores, like Kohl's, J.C. Penney, and Barnes & Noble, have turned to curbside pickup — which reportedly rose 88% since last year — and are offering customers an incentivized-discount if they use the service to avoid relying on mail carriers, the outlet reported.

"Retail is in for a reckoning," Mike Cassidy of the e-commerce fraud-protection company Signifyd told CNBC. "You can add shipageddon and the weakness in retail's fulfillment system to the list of trends that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated."

"The extent of the challenge will become crystal clear ... as shipping deadlines for Christmas Eve delivery come and go," Cassidy added. "It's a harrowing time any holiday season, but this year it is especially stress-inducing."

More information on retailers' shipping deadlines can be found here.

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