Tribune News Service file photo 
With ”Christmas Creep” pushing the holiday shopping season ever earlier, stretching the limits of already-strained shipping networks, FedEx and United Parcel Service are girding for their biggest test yet in the e-commerce era.

Tribune News Service file photo With ”Christmas Creep” pushing the holiday shopping season ever earlier, stretching the limits of already-strained shipping networks, FedEx and United Parcel Service are girding for their biggest test yet in the e-commerce era.

Retailers are warning of shipping delays as millions shop online

By Lauren Zumbach

Chicago Tribune

This isn’t the year to procrastinate on your online holiday shopping.

Retailers are warning that orders could take longer than usual to arrive because consumers are increasingly buying everyday essentials and holiday gifts online.

Shipping companies like UPS and FedEx say they have been handling package volumes usually seen during the height of the holidays all year as people shop online to avoid trips to stores during the pandemic.

Now that the holidays have arrived, online sales are still growing. Consumers spent a record $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, up 15.1% compared with last year, even after earlier-than-usual deals shifted some sales to before Thanksgiving, according to Adobe Analytics.

People choosing not to travel during the pandemic are also expected to ship more gifts to loved ones. Here’s what to know to make sure gifts arrive on time.

Why are delays possible?

Retailers and shipping companies have been preparing for extra packages. UPS and FedEx said they are hiring 100,000 and 70,000 seasonal workers respectively, and both say they are doing more weekend deliveries.

Still, the industry’s capacity could be short by up to 7 million packages a day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Satish Jindel, president of ShipMatrix, which analyzes shipping data.

Delays of a day or two won’t affect people buying gifts on Black Friday that they don’t intend to give until Dec. 25, but they could be an issue for last-minute shoppers, Jindel said.

“Don’t try to order after the 15th thinking you’ll get a better price, because the better price will be lost in extra shipping or not getting it on time,” he said.

UPS works with big retailers to make sure they know how much shipping capacity they can use during the holiday season, the company said in a statement. If retailers need more, UPS picks up the extra packages as space becomes available.

UPS said it wants to make sure it can accommodate other customers, including smaller businesses that are also seeing more holiday sales.

FedEx, which is predicting peak season shipping volumes will be 22% higher than last year, temporarily extended FedEx Ground transit times on some routes by one day starting Nov. 2.

How soon should I order?

Retailers’ rules for delivery by Dec. 25 vary. Crate & Barrel’s deadline for standard shipping is Thursday. Lands’ End shoppers must order monogrammed gifts by Friday; the deadline for other items is Dec. 15. Macy’s and L.L. Bean give shoppers until Dec. 18 and 19, respectively.

Others have warned customers shipments may take longer than usual to arrive but haven’t set deadlines. Abercrombie & Fitch initially told shoppers they needed to shop by Dec. 4 if they didn’t want to pay for expedited shipping. The company has since said shoppers have more time but encouraged people to check the website before ordering because “this remains a very fluid situation.”

Target’s website says high shipping volume could delay deliveries, but most packages shipped to customers’ homes will arrive within a day or two of the estimated date.

It could also depend on what you buy. Costco warned members last month it expected delivery delays with small parcels but didn’t expect big items like furniture, grills and appliances to be affected.

What if I wait too long?

Curbside pickup and same-day delivery orders can often be filled within a few hours. Many retailers that didn’t offer those services last year rolled them out after nonessential stores were forced to close during the pandemic.

Orders are filled at nearby stores so they can be ready quickly, though shoppers might not have access to every item a retailer carries.

Target said customers can place same-day pickup or delivery orders up until two hours before stores close on Dec. 24. Macy’s recommends placing same-day delivery orders by 10 a.m. and pickup orders by 3 p.m. Dec. 24 to ensure arrival by Dec. 25.

The services are convenient for last-minute shoppers but they can also reduce strain on delivery networks, since every package picked up or hand-delivered to a shopper’s home is one that doesn’t have to be mailed, said Curt Bimschleger, managing director at Deloitte.

When should I ship my packages?

The U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx all said their shipping deadlines for individuals mailing packages are relatively consistent with last year.

For delivery by Dec. 25, the U.S. Postal Service recommends sending items by First Class service by Dec. 18, Priority Mail by Dec. 19 and Priority Mail Express by Dec. 23.

The last recommended shipping date for UPS Ground depends on the package’s route, but can be as early as Dec. 15. Recommended send-by dates for UPS 3 Day Select, 2nd Day Air and Next Day Air are Dec. 21, 22 and 23, respectively.

FedEx says packages shipped by FedEx Ground or Home Delivery should be sent by Dec. 15. FedEx 2-Day and Overnight packages should be shipped by Dec. 22 and 23, respectively, and FedEx SameDay can be sent on Christmas Day. Those dates could change as the holiday season progresses, according to FedEx’s website.