The 2022 Holiday Shipping Playbook

Brisk weather and brisk sales – it’s peak season again! The only thing that can dampen the good cheer for merchants? Knowing how hectic holiday shipping can be. Whether you’re new or seasoned in the ways of eCommerce holiday shipping, the dance always follows the same steps.

More than 50 million parcels ship per day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Courier services slow under the strain, some shipments get delayed, and customer tensions run high. Your sales increase, gloriously, though you should be mindful of those new peak season surcharges. Thankfully, a little planning is all you need to waltz through the holidays with style, grace and plenty of cash in your pocket.

The 2021 Holiday Shipping Playbook

Use this complete playbook to plan for holiday shipping. You’ll gain solutions to the most persistent problems in holiday shipping, our best practices supported by proprietary data from over 2,000 businesses. We walk you through the steps to successful fulfillment, from courier selection to returns. Including how to:

  • Ace holiday shipping in 4 steps
  • Ship without paying holiday surcharges
  • Deliver on time using courier cutoff dates
  • Forecast demand for inventory control

This year, your holiday spirit can be one of relief.

The State of eCommerce Holiday Shipping 2022

There are now over 5 billion global internet users, and in 2021 eCommerce sales reached over $5.2 trillion. This figure is expected to increase as the years go by, so now is a better time than ever to prepare your holiday shipping strategy. One thing to be aware of is the delay in freight shipping. There are still ports that are backed up due to a shortage of container space and a tight labor market. This means that merchants are still struggling to transport their goods.

What does this mean for eCommerce shippers?

  • Consider UPS® Ground as your go-to shipping choice. UPS® Ground is the more economical standard delivery option with Easyship's discounted rates — and a reliable choice
  • Prepare for returns. The average online purchase return rate is around 18% and only 49% of retailers offer their customers free return shipping labels. Develop a returns strategy that's both convenient for customers and efficient for you, then communicate your returns policy along the sales journey to reduce friction. To ease the post-holiday returns bottleneck, you can extend your returns window by a month or so to keep your customers happy.
  • Consider help with fulfillment: 40% of shoppers will wait until the last 10 days before Christmas to buy gifts. Maybe recruit an extra set of hands to help you or partner with a fulfillment center. Outsourcing some of your shipments can help you hasten deliveries, reduce errors, and stay sane amidst the crush of holiday orders.
  • Be proactive about shipping: "When will my order arrive?" is the most-asked question in eCommerce over the holidays. Tracking details are a must-send, of course. Familiarize yourself with the courier cutoff dates to ensure packages arrive by Christmas. Late deliveries can tarnish your customer relationship and your reputation, plus spark returns.

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The Customers' Timeline

Good news: peak season may be getting less intense. The popularity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday have deal-savvy shoppers looking for savings earlier in the season. Most people assume that late November to early December is when the mad rush of Christmas shopping begins but in fact, 43% of online shoppers start their holiday shopping in October. October to November is when to expect lots of holiday orders, so if you can prepare for that, then luckily things calm down towards the end of December.

holiday shipments chart

Statistics taken from a 2021 online Statista survey

If you want to stand out from competitors, reach early shoppers and prepare your holiday shipping then you should start your holiday promotions early. This allows you to sidestep peak season surcharges and keep more of your margins. More importantly, you'll avoid delayed deliveries and impact customer satisfaction. Since online brands are competing on the axis of experience these days, it's best to approach shipping as a means to wow customers and retain them for life.

How to Plan Your Holiday Shipping Strategy

Step 1: Forecast Demand

Most companies begin to prepare for the peak season in Q3 around September. This means you'll want to evaluate two things, 1: demand for your products, and 2: your business performance during last year's holidays. Pay attention to metrics like:

  • Best & worst selling products
  • Total Revenue
  • Total shipping costs
  • Cost to ship per item
  • Busiest days & weeks
  • Leading sales channels
  • Returns volume
  • Cost per return
  • Top-earning countries and regions domestically

Forecasting demand for the coming year is critical because it allows you to buy the right inventory and staff up based on data – not guesswork. To learn how to forecast demand, check out this full guide to demand forecasting in eCommerce. For best results, all your prep work should be grounded in data available in your website analytics.

Step 2: Stock Up on Inventory and Packaging

Running out of packaging supplies at the last minute will slow you down and make you fall behind. Be prepared and ensure you have enough packaging supplies so your orders can get shipped out on time. More importantly, ensure your inventory is stocked up so you don’t have to cancel any orders and disappoint your customers. How much inventory you procure should be largely based on last year's sales numbers. But also consider your demand forecast alongside any marketing promotions or ongoing trends that will drive sales up or down. Once you set procurement objectives, communicate with your suppliers about your needs.

Step 3: Optimize Your Cart Experience for Shipping

Shipping has become a cornerstone of customer service for eCommerce shoppers. Many shoppers say they choose retailers based on the shipping and delivery options. Amazon set the bar high, so it's important to take steps to meet customers' expectations for a seamless experience.

3 Ways to Boost Sales at Checkout

  • Provide flexible shipping options: Easyship's Rates at Checkout feature allows you to display three live courier options in checkout – the fastest, cheapest, and the best value. Having different shipping options make customers more likely to convert and stay loyal to your brand .
  • Provide accurate tax and duty: Avoid surprise fees that sink sales by showing all international shoppers the pre-calculated tax and duty amounts for their orders. All tax & duty fees are shown upfront in the Easyship dashboard. Full transparency of costs improves sales, plus allows buyers to prepay any fees to streamline the delivery experience.
  • Use an address verification system: Most shipments with an inaccurate address either fail or are delayed. Address verification is an automated feature of shipping platforms that ensures the recipients' entries align with the address in courier delivery systems. This paves the way for a successful delivery every time.

Step 4: Automate Your Shipping

The holiday pre-season is a good time to test shipping automation that allows you to spend more time focusing on keeping your customers happy.

  • Automate returns: Returns are common enough that you want to put them on autopilot if possible. You can toggle on a setting in Easyship to have all return labels generated for you to ensure a hassle-free customer experience. Easyship also updates all inventory based on scanned return labels for you, ensuring you have real-time visibility of stock as it comes and goes. Learn more about returns management for eCommerce.
  • Enhance the post-purchase experience: 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 shortcuts with shipping rules: You can create rule-based shipping preferences in Easyship to effectively program a range of actions, including courier selection, fulfillment, returns, and more. Our automation can shave hours off your operations flow, especially important during the busy holidays.
  • Access the cheapest rates always: If you don't have time to negotiate your own shipping rates, you can access our discounted shipping rates (up to 91% off) and immediately offer them to your customers.

Step 5: Set Ship By Dates for Timely Deliveries

In the US alone, upwards of 50 million packages are delivered daily by USPS, UPS, and FedEx during the holidays. This staggering crush of parcels can derail your delivery schedule if you're not careful. To ensure customers receive their packages by Christmas, it's best to establish "ship-by" dates for each courier so customers know when the estimated delivery times are for their packages. Here's how.

2022 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:


Holiday Ship By Date

USPS Retail GroundDecember 17, 2022
USPS First Class MailDecember 17, 2022
USPS Flat Rate Priority MailDecember 19, 2022
USPS Priority Mail ExpressDecember 23, 2022


Holiday Ship By Date

FedEx Ground DeliveryDecember 14, 2022
FedEx Freight PriortyDecember 14, 2022
FedEx Express SaverDecember 20, 2022
FedEx 2Day ServicesDecember 22, 2022


Holiday Ship By Date

UPS 3 Day SelectDecember 20, 2022
UPS 2nd Day Air ServicesDecember 21, 2022
UPS Next Day Air ServicesDecember 22, 2022

2022 International Holiday Shipping Deadlines from the U.S.

Hong Kong

Courier Service

Shipping Deadline

AramexService unavailable from 25th-27th December
UPSService unavailable from 26th-27th December
FedExService unavailable from 26th-27th December
DHLService unavailable from 26th-27th December
SFEarly cut-off (time TBC) - 22nd and 24th December;
Service unavailable from 25th-27th December
DHL eCommerceService unavailable on the 25th December
DpexService unavailable on the 25th December
HK PostService unavailable from 26th-27th December
BoxcEarly cut-off of 1pm - 22nd and 24th December
QuantiumService unavailable 24th-27th and the 31st December


Courier Service

Shipping Deadline

UPSService unavailable from 25th-26th December
FedExService unavailable from 25th-26th December
DHLService unavailable on the 25th December
SingpostService unavailable on the 25th December
JanioService unavailable on the 25th December
DHL eCommerceService unavailable on the 25th December
JandT ExpressNormal operation expected throughout 20th-31st December
SFService unavailable on the 25th December
NinjaVan (Pickup Schedule)Service available until 3pm on 24th and 31st December;
Service unavailable from 25th-26th December
NinjaVan (Delivery Schedule)Service unavailable from 25th-26th December


Courier Service

Shipping Deadline

TNTService unavailable from 24th-27th December
UPSService unavailable from 25th-27th December
DHLService unavailable from 25th-28th December
TollService unavailable from 24th-27th December
FastwayService unavailable from 25th-27th December
SendleService unavailable from 25th-27th December
AramexService unavailable from 25th-26th December
FedExService unavailable from 25th-27th December

United States

Courier Service

Shipping Deadline

USPSService unavailable on 25th December
UPSService unavailable from 25th-26th December
DHLService unavailable from 25th-27th December
FedExService unavailable on 25th and 31st December
AramexService unavailable on 25th December
SkypostalService unavailable on 25th December
OSMService unavailable 24th December (after 6pm), on 25th December and on 31st December (after 6pm)
AsendiaCut-off time - 1pm - 24th December;
Service unavailable on 25th December and until 10pm on the 26th


Courier Service

Shipping Deadline

UPSService unavailable from 25th-27th December
DPDService unavailable from 25th-27th December
Hermes/EvriService unavailable from 25th-27th December
P2PCut-off time 12pm - 24th December;
Service unavailable on 25th December

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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 there is no one-size-fits-all courier when shipping to a global audience.

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.

Consider Your Holiday Shipping Offers

The holidays offer opportunities to brands who don’t usually offer discounts 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.

A Good Shipping Strategy Is Key

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.

Prepare for 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 from various angles can better manage customer expectation.
  • 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 prospective customers make better-informed buying decisions.

Additional Resources:


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