Get Holiday Ready

When it comes to planning for the holidays in eCommerce, best practices are everywhere, yet approaches to the most common pain points tend to be limited. This handbook is based on proprietary data from more than 2,000 businesses, all hitting peak revenue over the biggest online shopping season, and shares how merchants should prepare their inventory, fulfillment and customer service benchmarks to exceed holiday delivery expectations in 2020.

Get Holiday Ready

"When will my order arrive?" is the top question asked by consumers during the holiday season.

By taking the time to plan a holiday shipping strategy now, merchants can make shipping anxiety a stressor of the past for both themselves and their customers.

Get Holiday Ready


The eCommerce Holiday Landscape

Here's what sellers can expect in the upcoming holiday season.

Develop Your Holiday Shipping Strategy

Follow these steps to maintain your budget and provide arrivals.

2020 Shipping Cutoffs

Promote the following deadlines to encourage on-time deliveries.

Breaking Down the eCommerce Holiday Landscape

Holiday eCommerce sales set records in 2018, reaching unprecedented growth of a 16.5% year-over-year increase and significantly outpacing the National Retail Federation’s forecast for 4.3-4.8% overall holiday retail growth.

This increase highlights the need for merchants to invest strongly in their post-purchase eCommerce experience, as online sales continue to significantly outpace brick-and-mortar retail growth.

What does this mean for sellers?

  • In 2018, mobile traffic outpaced desktop traffic in eCommerce for the first time. As smartphones accounted for 31% of all sales. Offering a quality shopping and checkout experience through mobile is key to driving holiday sales.
  • With merchants further investing in omni-channel sales strategies, brick-and-mortar stores will continue to be an important destination for both shopping and online order pickup. Upon announcing Kohl’s will accept Amazon returns at all of its stores, Kohl’s stock price jumped by 12%. Merchants can expect to see the BOPIS (Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store) trend grow and peak during the holiday season.
  • 40% of shoppers will wait until the last 10 days before Christmas to buy gifts. Merchants can better cater to these customers by offering curated options that are reliable and removing the guesswork for gift-givers.

Defining the Consumer Shopping Timeline

As consumers become more deal savvy, traditional marketing initiatives around retail events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday become less important.

While Holiday shipment volume continues to rise later in the year; early weeks are still important.

holiday shipments chart

According to Easyship Holiday shipping data, 2018

The timing of delivery for the holidays have shifted earlier. 40% of holiday shipments occur the week of Black Friday and in the first two weeks of December. There is significantly less volume in the week leading up to Christmas, as well as the week of.

Planning your shipping strategy with affordable offerings earlier in the season can help your business drive revenue and ensure affordable shipping options for all your customers.

Since online stores are open 24/7, it’s important to ensure your website and business have the capacity to handle the influx of orders that come in during the holidays.

More sales means more revenue, meaning more shipping – and more opportunities for delivery issues. With the vast amount of eCommerce brands available, the best way for merchants to differentiate themselves is by offering an exceptional customer experience, as well as a best-in-market fulfillment strategy.

By prioritizing their customers and setting proper delivery expectations upfront, brands can develop customers for life.

Developing Your Holiday Shipping Strategy

Step 1. Begin Planning Early

For most companies, Q3, and more specifically September, leads as the kick-off for holiday season planning.

To get started, take a step back and look at aspects of last year’s holiday performance, such as:

  • Best selling products
  • Revenue numbers
  • Total shipping costs
  • Busiest days during the season
  • Identify priority countries & any shipping restrictions

The key to success for any business during the holiday season is a well defined plan: inventory, staffing, promotions, and an overall forecast for all your sales channels enables your teams to succeed during peak season.

Prepare Packaging and Stock Up

Prepare Your Packaging & Stock Up On Inventory

Shipping packages to customers without damage is critical, especially during the holiday season. In order to ensure that your products are securely packaged and to protect your bottom line, be sure to choose the best packaging for your product.

Note that every carrier has its own shipping and delivery policies regarding shipping methods, package restrictions, and weight and dimension guidelines. When using multiple couriers, we recommend sharing an easy-to-read cheat sheet with the important details for each shipping provider in your shipping area.

For inventory, your procurement planning is best when it is based on last year’s industry trends, along with your own quantities and marketing budgets. It’s also very important to also include January or even February in inventory calculations, to prepare for any unforecasted delays or surges.

Optimize Your Checkout Experience for Shipping

With the rise of eCommerce and mobile shopping, optimizing your checkout is trendier than ever. Creating a seamless checkout experience isn’t as difficult as it seems.

Optimize Checkout Experience

Three Tips To Grow Your Sales Through Shipping:

  • Provide flexible shipping options. Install Easyship’s Rates at Checkout plugin to show the fastest, cheapest, and best value shipping solutions based on the recipient’s location.
  • Show tax and duty amounts. Avoid surprise fees at customs by showing calculated tax and duty amounts for international customers. For a smoother delivery experience, opt to pre-pay tax and duty.
  • Use an address verification system. Minimize typos in capturing a recipient’s address, in turn, reducing the chances of a failed delivery and unhappy customers.
Automate Your Shipping

Automate Your Shipping

The holiday pre-season is a good time to test shipping automations so you can work out any issues before the holiday rush.

  • Enhance post-purchase communications. Make life easier for your customer service department by having transactional messages such as packing slips, tracking emails, and tracking landing pages automatically created and sent post-purchase. Maintain brand visibility and increase sales through these communications with these tips.
  • Set up shipping shortcuts with shipping rules. If you have strong preferences, program them into Easyship’s dashboard to set it and forget it. Consider implementing these 5 eCommerce shipping strategies.
  • Skip the negotiating process for rates. If you don’t have time to negotiate your own shipping rates, you can access discounted shipping rates and immediately offer them to your customers by working with a third-party reseller such as Easyship.

Step 2. Identify the best shipping solution for your business

In the United States alone, USPS, UPS and FedEx accounted for more than 50 million packages delivered each day during the holidays, for the 40 days between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve.

The sheer volume is both amazing, but also nerve-wrecking for merchants and consumers alike. To develop your shipping strategy, take some time to set up some “ship-by” date expectations to use later for inventory management, marketing campaigns, and more.

2020 Holiday Shipping Deadlines in the U.S.

Every year, couriers publish their “last days to ship” schedules. Easyship recommends the following mailing and shipping deadlines for expected delivery by December 25th:

USPS Holiday Shipping Deadlines

USPS Holiday Service

2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

Retail GroundTuesday, December 15, 2020
First Class MailFriday, December 18, 2020
Priority MailSaturday, December 19, 2020
Priority Mail ExpressWednesday, December 23, 2020

Does USPS Deliver on Christmas Eve?

Postal mail carriers will also deliver packages on select locations. However, the Postal Service’s busiest time is now two weeks before Christmas, starting from the week of December 9th.

FedEx Holiday Shipping Deadlines

FedEx Holiday Service

2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

SmartPost ServicesWednesday, December 9, 2020
GroundTuesday, December 15, 2020
Home DeliveryTuesday, December 15, 2020
Express SaverMonday, December 21, 2020
2Day ServicesTuesday, December 22, 2020
Overnight ServicesWednesday, December 23, 2020

Does FedEx Deliver on Christmas Eve?

Yes, FedEx does indeed offer deliveries on Christmas Eve. If you need to ship on Christmas Day you can use FedEx SameDay® service. It's available 365 days a year, for urgent shipments.

UPS Holiday Shipping Deadlines

UPS Holiday Service

2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

GroundFriday, December 11, 2020*
3 Day SelectMonday, December 21, 2020*
2nd Day Air ServicesTuesday, December 22, 2020*
Next Day Air ServicesWednesday, December 23, 2020*

*Predicted cutoff dates based on 2019 UPS Holiday Schedule. Dates will be updated upon 2020 courier shipping deadline publications.

Does UPS ship on Christmas Day?

UPS delivery service is available in all areas on Christmas Eve. However, Christmas Day is an observed holiday, so there will be no service.

Amazon Holiday Shipping Deadlines

Amazon Holiday Shipping

2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

Standard ShippingFriday, December 18, 2020*
Prime FREE Two-Day ShippingMonday, December 21, 2020*
Prime FREE One-Day Shipping*Wednesday, December 23, 2020*
Prime FREE Same-Day Delivery*Thursday, December 24, 2020*
FREE 2-Hour Delivery with Prime Now*Thursday, December 24, 2020*

*Predicted cutoff dates based on the 2019 Amazon Prime schedule.

What is the last date to order from Amazon for Christmas?

Amazon’s free holiday shipping promotion, which removes the minimum $25 purchase requirement for non-Prime members, is assumed to be available until December 17th. Orders placed by then are guaranteed to arrive in time for Christmas. Amazon has also expanded free one-day shipping and free same-day delivery for Prime members to more than 10,000 cities last year, so last-minute gift buyers can shop for holiday items until December 24th, at 9:30am.

DHL eCommerce Shipping Deadlines

DHL eCommerce Shipping

2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

SmartMail Expedited MaxThursday, December 17, 2020
SmartMail ExpeditedTuesday, December 15, 2020
SmartMail GroundFriday, December 11, 2020

2020 International Holiday Shipping Deadlines from the U.S.

Flat Export International Holiday Shipping Deadlines



2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

Flat ExportCanadaMonday, December 7, 2020
Flat ExportRest of the worldMonday, December 14, 2020

USPS International Holiday Shipping Deadlines

USPS Holiday Service


2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

Priority Mail Express InternationalAfrica, Central & South AmericaMonday, December 7, 2020*
Priority Mail Express InternationalAsia/Pacific Rim, Australia/New Zealand, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Middle EastMonday, December 14, 2020*
Priority Mail InternationalAfrica, Central & South AmericaMonday, November 30, 2020*
Priority Mail InternationalAsia/Pacific Rim, Australia/New Zealand, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Middle EastMonday, December 7, 2020*
First-Class Package International ServiceAfrica, Central & South AmericaMonday, November 30, 2020*
First-Class Package International ServiceAsia/Pacific Rim, Australia/New Zealand, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Middle EastMonday, December 7, 2020*

*Predicted cutoff dates based on 2019 USPS Holiday Shipping Deadlines. Dates will be updated upon 2020 courier shipping deadline publications.

FedEx International Holiday Shipping Deadlines

FedEx Holiday Service


2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

FedEx International PriorityPuerto Rico, CanadaWednesday, December 23, 2020
FedEx International PriorityMexicoTuesday, December 22, 2020
FedEx International EconomyPuerto Rico, CanadaTuesday, December 22, 2020
FedEx International EconomyMexicoMonday, December 21, 2020

Cutoff dates based on 2020 FedEx Holiday Schedule.

UPS International Holiday Shipping Deadlines

UPS Holiday Service


2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

Worldwide ExpressCanadaMonday, December 23, 2020*
Worldwide ExpressMexicoFriday, December 20, 2020*
Worldwide ExpeditedCanadaFriday, December 20, 2020*
Worldwide ExpeditedMexicoThursday, December 19, 2020*
StandardCanadaFriday, December 13, 2020*
StandardMexicoFriday, December 13, 2020*

*Predicted cutoff dates based on 2019 UPS Holiday Schedule. Dates will be updated upon 2020 courier shipping deadline publications.

DHL International Holiday Shipping Deadlines

DHL Express - Destinations

2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

Canada, MexicoFriday, December 18, 2020*
Asia/Pacific Rim, Australia/New Zealand, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Middle EastFriday, December 18, 2020*
Africa, Central & South AmericaWednesday, December 16, 2020*

*Predicted cutoff dates based on 2019 DHL Holiday Schedule. Dates will be updated upon 2020 courier shipping deadline publications.

DHL eCommerce


2020 Shipping Cutoff Date

DHL Parcel International DirectUnited KingdomMonday, December 14, 2020
DHL Parcel International DirectCanadaTuesday, December 8, 2020
DHL Parcel International DirectHong KongSaturday, December 5, 2020
DHL Parcel International StandardCanadaTuesday, December 1, 2020
DHL Parcel International StandardSingapore, Rest of EUWednesday, December 2, 2020
DHL Parcel International StandardUnited KingdomThursday, December 10, 2020
DHL Parcel International StandardHong Kong, India, China, ThailandFriday, November 27, 2020
DHL Packet InternationalUnited KingdomThursday, December 10, 2020
DHL Packet InternationalWestern Europe, ChinaThursday, December 3, 2020
DHL Packet InternationalCanadaTuesday, December 1, 2020

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Which Courier is Best for Holiday Shipping: UPS, USPS, or FedEx?

It’s important to remember that each merchant is different and these ship-by dates don’t have a fulfillment lag built in. There is no one-size-fits-all courier when shipping to a global audience.

Holiday Courier Delivery Score Chart

According to Easyship Holiday shipping data, 2018

Easyship analyzed millions of shipments during peak season, between 50 couriers, including FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service. Our results are above.

We found that the Postal Service is often the most popular way to go, although it’s still important to give your customers a choice.

Unlike the others, USPS also offers a premium service that can deliver on Christmas Day in major markets. However, we saw that FedEx was almost always a good deal and also had the highest on-time delivery rate during the holidays.

SMBs who choose to work with multiple couriers not only reduce shipping costs, but they also provide their customers the right mix of affordability, service and levels of delivery urgency.

By relying on our Rates at Checkout feature, Easyship clients offer their customers location-based delivery flexibility, while leveraging shipping rules to account for their holiday cut-off and fulfillment logic.

In addition to partnering with popular couriers to ship domestically, Easyship also includes multiple last-mile solutions that provide holistic, pre-negotiated coverage for the rest of the world.

Step 3. Develop your holiday shipping offers

The holidays offer opportunities to brands who normally don’t discount to do so, without diminishing brand value. However, this can often create issues in undercutting profitability.

Below are some options that help you find the balance between services that please your customers, at a price that your business is happy with.

It’s important to remember that each merchant is different and these ship-by dates don’t have a fulfillment lag built in. There is no one-size-fits-all courier when shipping to a global audience.

How Merchants Ship is Important

Offering free shipping during the holidays makes sense, as many customers are truly in “purchase mode” and are more willing to justify their purchases accordingly.

To determine the best way to offer free shipping, it’s best to know your:

  • Average order value
  • Product margins
  • Actual shipping costs

From there, you can make this promotion happen by:

  • Offering free shipping for your most popular products
  • Incorporating the price of shipping into the listing price of your items
  • Making it available to customers who spend over a certain amount. Your shipping threshold should be 10-15% higher than your current average order value.
Promote Ship-By Dates

Promote Your "Ship-By" Dates On Your Site

The busiest mailing and delivery times for couriers are the two weeks before Christmas.

Manage expectations for delivery by sharing ship-by dates for the following customers:

Promoting these dates on your website and sending gentle reminders via email marketing can encourage your customers to make their purchases earlier to ensure delivery before the holidays.

Ready For Rush Fulfillments

Have Same-Day And Rush Fulfillment Options Ready

There will always be those who procrastinate and are in need of rush fulfillment options.

In order to capture those sales effectively, it’s best to have the following solutions available:

  • Same day, local delivery
  • Overnight
  • In-store pickup

Don’t have a same-day delivery provider? You can utilize Easyship to offer same and next-day delivery for select shipments! sign up for an Easyship account to see if your shipment qualifies.

Step 4. Don't forget returns

Record-breaking holiday sales bring record-breaking returns in January! Be prepared.

Review Your Returns Policy

Returns are definitely a pain point for eCommerce SMBs. If you’re in need of a clearly defined shipping policy, try this free shipping template generator for a fully customized policy with time to spare before the holidays.

Don't forget returns

To help prevent returns, it’s best to do the following:

  • Show high quality photos of your product on your website. Showing the product in detail and seeing it at various angles can better manage customer expectations.
  • Include accurate size guides. This is especially important for apparel and shoes. Bonus points if you offer size guides that are localized by country.
  • Be proactive in getting product reviews from customers. This feedback can help make prospective customers make better-informed buying decisions.

Additional Resources:


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