How to Make Sure Your Gifts Arrive in Time for Christmas

USPS Christmas


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USPS Christmas

Holiday Hustle

The rush is officially on to buy holiday gifts and get them delivered to far-flung friends and loved ones in time. And this year, the task may be all the more challenging with even more Americans expected to shop online and ship gifts from afar amid the pandemic, slowing down the works for everyone. To help you prepare for the madness ahead, we asked a few shopping and retail industry experts for their insights on shipping and shopping tactics to make sure your gifts arrive on schedule.

Related: Don't Miss These Important Holiday Shipping Deadlines


Understand What You’re Up Against

Knowledge is power, right? And forewarned is forearmed. So, here’s a key bit of information to keep in mind heading into this holiday season — a recent survey from TopCashback found that a whopping 88 percent of Americans plan to complete a majority of their holiday shopping online. That’s a whole lot of holiday packages in the mail, competing against yours to get to their destination in time.

“While shopping online for the holidays is convenient and safe, shipping and delays must be factored in when deciding when and where to shop — especially this year with people not just purchasing gifts but essentials online as well,” says Rebecca Gramuglia, retail expert for TopCashback.

Related: This Is What Holiday Shopping Will Look Like This Year

Cyber Monday Online Shopping
Scott Olson/Getty

Research Shipping Deadlines and Timelines Well in Advance

If you plan to shop online, it’s a good idea to visit the retailer’s website now to find out whether there are any mentions of holiday shipping delays and deadlines, says Gramuglia of TopCashback.

“For example, Vanity Planet is already urging consumers to shop early on their website,” says Gramuglia. “And if you’re planning to shop from marketplace sites, like Etsy, look to see the shipping timeline for each product. Depending on where the product is being shipped from, it can range from a few days to a few weeks to be delivered.”

Related: The Hottest Black Friday Deals From Best Buy

Curbside pickup

Shop for Must-Have or High-Demand Products Early

This may seem like an incredibly obvious tip, but given what we already said about how many people will be shopping online this year, do yourself a huge favor and buy gifts early, particularly if you’re shopping for a very popular or specific must-have item that may sell out, such as the incredibly popular Star Wars the Child animatronic doll.

“With limited product stocks due to supply-chain disruptions, shoppers should not wait until the last minute to buy,” says Meaghan Brophy, retail and ecommerce analyst for FitSmallBusiness. “If there are any specific items on your list, it’s best to cross them off early while they’re still in stock.”

Related: Popular Gifts Likely to Sell Out in 2020 (and What to Buy If You're Too Late)

Christmas tree at home
Tom Merton/istockphoto

To Be Safe, Aim to Finish Your Shopping by Mid-December

With many of the major carriers’ standard shipping deadlines being toward the middle of December, it’s a good benchmark to try and finish the majority of your holiday shopping by then or even earlier to be safe, says Gramuglia.

“According to UPS, December 15 is the last day to score UPS Ground shipping and have your package delivered by December 24,” says Gramuglia. “Similarly, according to USPS, December 15 is the deadline for Retail Ground service and December 18 for First-Class mail service and packages to arrive on Christmas Day.” For FedEx, Dec. 15 is the deadline for FedEx Home Delivery and FedEx Ground.

Related: This Year’s Hottest Holiday Gifts


Make the Most of Free Shipping Day

Want to score a bit of a savings while you’re rushing to get the holiday packages in the mail on time? Don’t miss Free Shipping Day, says Gramuglia of TopCashback. “For those shoppers who want to forgo the idea of paying for shipping altogether, keep in mind that Free Shipping Day is Monday, December 14,” says Gramuglia. “This will likely be the last time most retailers will offer free shipping with no minimum purchase and guaranteed delivery by Thursday, December 24.”

Related: The Best Early Black Friday Deals From Walmart

Prime Shipping

Don’t Expect Shipping Guarantees to Be the Same as Past Years

With retailers already warning about potential shipping delays this holiday season, it’s unlikely that the delivery date guarantees that were standard in years past will be found in many places, says consumer analyst Julie Ramhold of DealNews. “And if they do offer guarantees, I imagine they're going to include more fine print than in previous years,” says Ramhold.


Hire a Local Shopper or Delivery Service to Beat Shipping Delays

When shipping delays keep you from getting gifts to family and friends in far-flung locations in time for the holiday, lean on local delivery services instead to deliver gifts that can be picked curbside from retailers, says consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch. “You can hire a local shopper to help with picking up and delivering the gifts via Postmates,” says Woroch.

Related: Unique Gifts for Everyone on Your List


Monitor Price Drops

One of the worries of shopping early is missing out on any sales that may take place closer to Christmas, says Woroch. “However, many retailers are urging shoppers to begin buying gifts now with promises to match price drops leading up to Christmas,” says Woroch. “For instance, Target announced that they will extend their 14-day Price Match Guarantee for a limited time through December 24, on anything promoted as a Black Friday deal, even those early doorbuster sales.”

Apps like Paribus will even monitor prices for you and ask for price adjustments on your behalf.

Related: 16 Insider Tips and Secrets for Frugal Online Shopping

Online Shopping
SDI Productions/istockphoto

Be Strategic About Last-Minute Shopping

If for some reason you absolutely must wait to do your shopping until late in the season, consider finding the shortest route for sending your gifts, says Ramhold of DealNews. “That is, have it shipped directly from the retailer to your recipient if you can (rather than having the item shipped to you first for some reason) or develop a back-up plan should it not arrive on time,” says Ramhold. “My personal favorite is to send a greeting card with a picture of the actual gift inside — that way they know I didn't forget and they have something to look forward to.”

Though it may not be as much fun to open a card with a picture inside of it as it is to open the actual gift, this back-up plan lets your friend or family member know they weren’t forgotten. 

Related: Hottest Holiday Gifts From Amazon

Jorge Villalba/istockphoto

Expect to Pay Big for Last-Minute Shipping

Of course, for shoppers who can’t manage to get organized and complete their holiday shopping well in advance, there’s always overnight shipping, and two-day shipping, says Gramuglia.

“But if you’re planning to ship a gift right before the holidays this year, you may be cutting it close and paying a lot more in delivery fees for a package that might not arrive on time,” she says. Let’s all say it again together, shall we? Forewarned is forearmed.

Related: The Best Black Friday Deals From Costco