If you sell items on eBay or Etsy, you may think the holiday season is almost over, with just a few days until Christmas.
But don’t underestimate procrastinators or shoppers who need a last-minute gift because they just learned a friend or family member is coming over for the holidays.
Sure, some shoppers may turn to Amazon because of their historically fast delivery service. However, other buyers will still search eBay or Etsy for unique gifts that cannot be found on the online retail giant’s site.
Unless your buyer is in your state or a neighboring state, here is what you need to know about shipping last-minute gifts with USPS, UPS, and FedEx.
This guide is for the contiguous U.S. only. But if you need to ship a package to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico over the next few days, we suggest only using one of the expedited services with a transit time commitment.
United States Postal Service (USPS)
The U.S. Postal Service offers three primary delivery speeds for domestic shipments, but only one has a delivery guarantee. But as one of the most affordable options, and the only one among the three largest carriers in the U.S. not to add seasonal surcharges, its service offerings are also unlikely the best solutions for last-minute shipments.
With other changes in its ground offering launched earlier this year, here is a run-down of USPS services and what you should know about each one before considering the Postal Service for those last-minute shipping.
USPS Priority Mail Express: This is the only guaranteed mail service within the United States that generally will be delivered within one business day. But before committing to a customer that the shipment will arrive the next day, check transit times on the USPS site, especially if you or your customer are in more remote areas where the Postal Service will only guarantee delivery in two days. Wednesday, December 20, is really your last day to ship items with USPS Priority Mail Express to ensure timely delivery.
USPS Priority Mail: This is one of the most popular shipping choices for shipping packages, but it has no delivery guarantee. The Postal Service advertises 2 to 3 days for most deliveries, but routinely, shipments during the holiday season may take a little longer. Weather conditions, high volume, or other factors along the route can affect transit times. We do not recommend shipping by USPS Priority Mail after Monday, December 18, for an on-time delivery experience.
USPS First Class / Advantage Ground: This is the Postal Service’s “economic” or “ground” shipping service. While USPS says shipments mailed by Saturday, December 16, should still arrive on time, frankly, that is playing with fire. We no longer recommend using these services if your customer needs their order before Christmas.
United Parcel Service (UPS)
UPS offers seven shipping services within the U.S., but they are divided into four primary categories: Next Day, 2-Day, 3-Day, and Ground. UPS maintains its own delivery network and is consistently ranked as one of the most reliable shipping services in the United States.
UPS Next Day Air: This overnight service is available in three speeds: UPS Next Day Air Early, UPS Next Day Air, and UPS Next Day Air Saver. Fundamentally, most shipments with UPS Next Day are delivered the next business day, and the difference between the services is the guaranteed time of day for deliveries.
For the holiday season, UPS extends time commitments for commercial addresses from 8 AM to 9:30 AM for the Early service and 3 PM for its standard service. For residential deliveries, time-of-day commitments are until the end of the day, which can mean evening deliveries.
UPS only offers time commitments or service guarantees for UPS Next Day Air shipments. All other services indicated below are typically at the end of the day (or business day).
UPS 2nd Day Air: This two-day service by UPS also offers different time commitments: UPS 2nd Day Air AM and UPS 2nd Air Day. The AM service is typically 10:30 AM or Noon, but it’s not currently guaranteed.
UPS 3 Day Select: This is UPS’s most economical expedited service, but also one that is probably used the least as UPS Ground delivery times have shrunk through the years. Still, if you need a package to arrive in three business days, especially during the final week before Christmas, this is an excellent economical choice to offer your customers.
UPS Ground: The carrier has vastly improved its network to offer fast and reliable ground shipping, enabling most shippers to send packages to U.S. customers in four days or less. Still, some addresses may require longer transit times if you ship from the East or West Coast to more rural areas on the other side of the country. Shippers should only use it after Monday if your customer is within the two-day delivery estimate.
Federal Express (FedEx)
Like UPS, FedEx also offers four primary small package delivery services with similar delivery time commitments. It is also considered one of the most reliable delivery solutions and offers some home delivery options unavailable with UPS.
FedEx Overnight: This service is available with three time commitments: FedEx First Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, and FedEx Standard Overnight. During the holiday season, First Overnight will be delivered to commercial addresses by 9:30 AM, and its standard Overnight will be delivered by 3 PM. All other services, including those to residential addresses, will be delivered by the end of the day.
FedEx 2Day: Again, like UPS, FedEx offers morning delivery to commercial addresses, while all other deliveries will be made by the end of the day.
FedEx Express Saver: Another “holdover” service that probably is used less these days with improved Ground delivery speeds. Deliveries will be made within three business days by the end of the day.
FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery: The primary difference between Ground and Home Delivery is that FedEx offers more weekend delivery choices with Home. This will give shippers a little more time over the next few days as FedEx will deliver Home Delivery shipments on Saturday and where available on Sunday (Christmas Eve). For many shippers, that means they may be able to push last-minute Ground shipments to Wednesday, but we warn about offering this as a guaranteed delivery.
Holiday Season Shipping
We hope this guide is helpful for you to understand your options for shipping items with only a few days left in the holiday season.
If you do not regularly ship with express services, remember that some restrictions, such as rechargeable batteries in electronics, may not be allowed in air shipments. Please check each company’s service guide for more information.
In addition, money guarantees that typically apply to express services may be suspended in the last few days before Christmas. Again, check each carrier’s service guide for more information.
This guide does not include information for DHL Express or Sendle. Sendle’s network relies primarily on USPS and select local courier services; therefore, its service level may differ from location to location. Check Sendle’s rate and transit time guide for more details.
DHL Express is primarily an international option for U.S. shippers, and we did not include any international information in this guide, as it’s really too late now.
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