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Holiday shipping deadlines 2021: What you need to know

illustration of a person wearing a santa hat and pointing at dates on a calendar

[Updated post from October 28th, 2020]

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The 2021 holiday season is right around the corner – and that means holiday shipping deadlines are, too.

In an era where consumers take next-day shipping and even same-day delivery services for granted, we’re not always prepared for the realities of holiday season ecommerce. 

Where we can normally rely on last-minute ordering, this is a risky strategy during Q4; the longer you leave your holiday gift shopping, the less likely it is you’ll get your order on time.

Holiday shipping deadlines are a vital tool to help merchants manage customer expectations and minimize poor customer experiences resulting from late delivery. In this post, you’ll find the 2021 holiday shipping deadlines for USPS (United States Postal Service) FedEx, and UPS – along with some other pearls of wisdom directly from us at Whiplash.

What are holiday shipping cutoff dates?

Holiday shipping cutoff dates are the last day by which an ecommerce order needs to be shipped to reach its destination in time for the holidays. If an order is shipped following this, the parcel carrier cannot guarantee it will arrive by the expected delivery date – and neither can the merchant.

Carriers use cutoff dates because parcel networks are put under serious strain during Q4. This is the busiest time of year for postal services due to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and other cultural events all occurring during the same period. 

Cutoff dates will depend on the parcel carrier, the service level, and where a parcel is being delivered to. International orders, for example, have much earlier cutoff dates than domestic deliveries, which can have deadlines as late as Christmas Eve. Shipping deadlines help to ease pressure by spreading out deliveries and helping merchants to plan their holiday shipping strategies more effectively.

How can merchants handle holiday shipping deadlines effectively?

Give your customers plenty of notice about cutoff dates

Holiday shipping deadlines are typically released a couple of months before the holiday season gets underway. Once you have access to your carrier’s schedule, it’s really important to communicate this to your customers to avoid disappointments. Consider adding a banner to your website with the relevant dates and posting regularly on social media as the cutoff date gets closer.

Add on some extra time to be on the safe side 

During the holiday season, merchants don’t just have shipping deadlines to worry about; they also need to factor in lead times for processing and fulfilling orders. Delays to dispatching orders are common at this time of year due to peak season pressures, which could result in some orders missing your carrier’s deadline. It’s a good idea to be conservative and add an additional day or two on your carrier’s deadline to be certain that orders will get shipped in time.

Use shipping promotions to drive earlier ordering 

Every consumer has a different approach to holiday shopping. Some will have bought all of their gifts by Halloween, while others are still placing orders just shy of Christmas Day. By incentivizing your customers to place orders earlier, you can avoid upset shoppers who may go on to post negative reviews about your brand. Offering free shipping on all orders placed before a certain date, for example, helps to drive more urgency and avoid late shipments.

Holiday shipping cut-off dates for 2021

Below is a list of holiday shipping deadlines for USPS, FedEx, and UPS. For more information on deadlines, check the carrier’s website.

USPS holiday shipping deadlines 2021

Domestic (US mainland)

  • Dec. 15th, 2021 – USPS Retail Ground Service   
  • Dec. 17th, 2021 – First-Class Mail Service
  • Dec. 18th, 2021 – Priority Mail Service    
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – Priority Mail Express Service

Domestic (Alaska and Hawaii)

Alaska
  • Dec. 2nd, 2021 – USPS Retail Ground Service   
  • Dec. 18th, 2021 – First-Class Mail Service
  • Dec. 18th, 2021 – Priority Mail Service    
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – Priority Mail Express Service
Hawaii
  • Dec. 17th, 2021 – First-Class Mail Service
  • Dec. 17th, 2021 – Priority Mail Service    
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – Priority Mail Express Service
  • N/A – USPS Retail Ground Service   

International

U.S. to Canada
  • Dec. 6th, 2021 – First-Class Package International Service
  • Dec. 6th, 2021 – Priority Mail International Service
  • Dec. 13th, 2021 – Priority Mail Express International Service
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 – Global Express Guaranteed Service
U.S. to Mexico
  • Dec. 6th, 2021 – First-Class Package International Service
  • Dec. 6th, 2021 –  Priority Mail International Service
  • Dec. 13th, 2021 – Priority Mail Express International Service
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 – Global Express Guaranteed Service
U.S. to Central & South America
  • Nov. 29th, 2021 – First-Class Package International Service
  • Nov. 29th, 2021 – Priority Mail International Service    
  • Dec. 6th, 2021 – Priority Mail Express International
  • Dec. 20th, 2021 – Global Express Guaranteed Service

Check here for all USPS holiday shipping deadlines.

FedEx holiday shipping deadlines 2021

Domestic

  • Dec. 9th, 2021 (with exceptions) – FedEx SmartPost     
  • Dec. 12th, 2021 – FedEx Ground Economy
  • Dec. 15th, 2021 – FedEx Ground    
  • Dec. 15th, 2021 – FedEx Home Delivery   
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – FedEx Express Saver    
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – Three-Day Services
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – One-Day Services
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 – Two-Day Services    
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 – FedEx 2Day A.M.
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – Overnight Services
  • Dec. 24th, 2021 – FedEx Same Day

International

U.S. to Canada
  • Dec. 17th, 2021 – FedEx International Priority Distribution
  • Dec. 17th, 2021 – FedEx International Economy
  • Dec. 18th, 2021 – FedEx International Priority
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – FedEx International First
  • Dec. 24th, 2021 – FedEx International Next Flight
U.S. to Canada Ground
  • Dec. 13th, 2021 – Northbound
  • Dec. 14th, 2021 – Southbound
  • Dec. 15th, 2021 – Canada Domestic
U.S. to Mexico 
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – FedEx International Economy
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 – FedEx International Priority
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – FedEx International First (Non-Documents) 
  • Dec. 24th, 2021 – FedEx International Next Flight 
  • Dec. 24th, 2021 – FedEx International First (Documents)
 U.S. to Puerto Rico
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 -FedEx International Economy
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – FedEx International Priority Distribution
  • Dec. 24th, 2021 – FedEx International Next Flight
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – FedEx International First

Check here for all FedEx holiday shipping deadlines.

UPS holiday shipping deadlines 2021

Domestic

  • Check ups.com/ctc for details – UPS Ground shipping 
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – UPS 3 Day Select 
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 – UPS 2nd Day Air services 
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – UPS Next Day Air services 

International

U.S. to Canada
  • Check ups.com/ctc for details – UPS Standard Services (From the 48 contiguous states only)
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – UPS Worldwide Expedited
  • Dec. 23rd, 2021 – UPS Worldwide Express services
U.S. to Mexico
  • Check ups.com/ctc for details – UPS Standard service (From the 48 contiguous states only)
  • Dec. 21st, 2021 – UPS Worldwide Expedited
  • Dec. 22nd, 2021 -UPS Worldwide Express services 

Check here for all UPS holiday shipping deadlines.

What merchants need to keep in mind for the 2021 holiday season

Ecommerce is going to thrive once again

Although the physical retail sector is mounting a strong recovery, this holiday season is set to belong firmly to ecommerce as it did last year. A longer, more spread-out holiday season and concerns about the delta variant are driving many consumers to continue doing the bulk of their holiday shopping online – especially when taking advantage of the Black Friday holiday weekend

So, what does this mean for ecommerce merchants? It’s set to be another lucrative season – but only if your operation can handle the pressure of high order volumes. To find out how you can start the holiday season off right, read our post on why ecommerce is going to rule the 2021 holiday season.

Peak season surcharges are at a record-high

Seasonal surcharges have already been a major feature in shipping throughout 2021, and this is set to continue this holiday season. With parcel carriers experiencing unprecedented demand due to the expansion of ecommerce during the pandemic, residential deliveries and high-volume shippers are set to be the biggest targets.

For merchants, this is going to require careful management to prevent increased shipping costs from eroding their profit margins. Check out our full guide on 2021 peak surcharges to find out how you can still ensure a profitable holiday season.

Free shipping is an expectation

There are some years where consumers are laser-focused on shipping speed. This year, it’s all about price. According to a holiday survey by Shopkick, a whopping 94% of customers said that free shipping was the perk they wanted most when shopping online this holiday season.

Given the massive financial hit that many households have taken during the pandemic, it’s not surprising that shipping costs are a big factor in holiday purchasing decisions this year. But offering free shipping during the holidays carries a range of pros and cons that can make or break a business’s profitability; if you’re embarking on a free shipping strategy, you need to make sure you’re using the right approach. 

For ways to offer free shipping without breaking the bank, see our post on how to offer free shipping during the holiday season

It’s clear that merchants will be grappling with a range of challenges during the 2021 holiday season. In addition to ongoing supply chain challenges and slower consumer spending, consumer expectations for fast and seamless delivery are putting huge pressure on in-house fulfillment operations. To achieve a successful and profitable holiday season, there’s little room for error.

By partnering with an experienced ecommerce fulfillment provider like Whiplash, ecommerce brands gain access to the very best shipping experts and carrier partnerships to capitalize on the growth opportunities of the holiday season. Whether it’s the cheapest rates or effective last-mile delivery, Whiplash is the ultimate partner to help you navigate the complexities of the current ecommerce landscape.

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