With Christmas closing in, consumers shopping online this week will begin running into e-retailers’ cutoff dates for shipping offers and guaranteed delivery in time for the holiday.
Checking cutoff dates among 100 top U.S. e-retailers shows order deadlines for in-stock products for delivery by Christmas start kicking in Friday, Dec. 16. For some e-retailers, it is the last day free or paid standard shipping is available. For instance, Dec. 16 is the cutoff for standard shipping (free on orders of $89 or more) at TJMaxx.com, No. 117 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide. Other e-retailers using Dec. 16 as their deadline include Bath & Body Works, a unit of L Brands Inc. (No. 28), and Avon Products Inc. (No. 64).
Friday, Dec. 16 coincides with Free Shipping Day, a multiretailer shopping promotion that roughly 1,200 e-retailers are expected to participate in this year, says FreeShippingDay.com founder Luke Knowles. Last year, a little more than 1,000 retailers participated in Free Shipping Day, which was held Friday, Dec. 18 (the comparable Friday on the calendar to this year’s Dec. 16). E-retailers generated $1.48 billion in sales that day, up 21.5% from $1.35 billion in 2014, according to Adobe Digital Index data.
New participants in Free Shipping Day this year include Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic (No. 20) and Lululemon Athletica Inc. (No. 96), Knowles says. To be part of the official Free Shipping Day promotion—where a merchant’s name and logo appear on FreeShippingDay.com—merchants must offer free shipping with delivery before the holiday with no minimum purchase requirement. There are some exclusions allowed to this requirement, such as oversized products like appliances, Knowles says.
Free Shipping Day has been around since 2008 and is meant to lure last-minute shoppers to get their shopping done in time for the holiday. “We try to pitch this as a shopping day for procrastinators,” Knowles says. The Free Shipping Day date is generally set one full business week before Christmas. “We try to be about a week before Christmas because that allows us to have enough merchants to participate to have free shipping on all orders,” he says.
Dec. 16 also is FedEx Corp.’s deadline to ship FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery for delivery in time for the holiday. UPS Inc.’s deadlines begin kicking in on Monday, Dec. 19 for delivery by Friday, Dec. 23. The U.S. Postal Service’s deadline for Retail Ground service is Dec. 15.
But placing an order with an online retailer Dec. 16 feels a little too close to Christmas for many shoppers. 51.4% of 480 online shoppers taking an Internet Retailer survey in late November indicate buying online after Dec. 15 feels like risky business. Respondents entered a date to answer the question: “How late into December would you feel comfortable placing an order with the expectation it would be delivered on or before Dec. 25 (a Sunday)?” 25.6% of the 480 respondents selected Dec. 15 as their deadline for online shopping comfort. 25.8% selected a day prior to Dec. 15. Taken together, 51.4% of online shoppers indicate they are not comfortable they will receive goods they buy online after Dec. 15 in time for the holiday.
Dec. 15 was the most popular date submitted by respondents. Dec. 20 was the No. 2 answer, after which date few consumers believe if they shop online they will receive their orders in time for Christmas. 4.0% of respondents entered a date of Dec. 21 or later. Five respondents said Dec. 24, with one adding: “Everything has a price.”
Another respondent’s commentary exemplified the uphill battle online merchants face in combatting Amazon.com Inc., which this year set its free standard shipping deadline for Dec. 16, but which also is hyping the quick delivery options available, many of them at no charge, to customers of Amazon Prime. The respondent answered the delivery question with: “It depends on the website. Anything except Amazon I would say no later than the first week of December.” Amazon is No. 1 in the Top 500 and accounts for 37% of U.S. online sales, Internet Retailer estimates.
Amazon’s latest ordering deadline for delivery Christmas Eve is 9:45 p.m. on Dec. 24, available to Prime members in the 28 U.S. metropolitan areas where Prime Now delivery is available. Prime Now delivers select items within two hours for no fee.
Chain retailers, meanwhile, are touting the ability for consumers to buy online and pick up their order in a nearby store on Christmas Eve. Macy’s Inc. (No. 6), for instance, says consumers can order select products online as late as noon on Dec. 24 for in-store pickup. In some markets it also is offering same-day delivery for goods ordered by 10 a.m. via delivery service Deliv. For orders that normally would qualify for free shipping, the charge is $5 for same-day delivery on Christmas Eve. For orders that would not qualify for free shipping, the charge is $14.95. Macy’s began testing same-day delivery via Deliv last year.
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 33) set its shipping deadline for standard shipping for Dec. 21, and is offering it for free on orders of $49 or more. At the same time, visitors to JCP.com on a desktop computer currently see a pop-up window covering the bottom 25% of the home page; the message promotes buy online for free in-store pick up on the same day. It does not indicate cutoff times for Christmas Eve. Last month, J.C. Penney said nearly 40% of web orders are picked up in a J.C. Penney store.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 4) says consumers can place orders as late as 6 p.m. local time on Dec. 23 for a limited array of products and they will be available for in-store pickup on Dec. 24. The mass merchant will feature the products available for last-minute online shoppers on a “last minute gifts” page on Walmart.com. Walmart.com’s order cutoff for items shipped for home delivery is Dec. 22 at noon, using rush shipping. The cutoff for standard delivery is Dec. 20.
Among the 100 large online retail sites Internet Retailer checked, most say they are able to fulfill orders placed on Dec. 21 and 22 by Christmas Eve using overnight or express delivery. That, of course, is barring inclement weather or last-minute surges in package volume that stretch delivery carriers too thin, which is what happened during the days leading up to Christmas in 2013. Further, bad weather in the Midwest and Southeast last year challenged carriers at the last minute, with major carriers’ on-time delivery rates dipping Dec. 23, but rebounding Dec. 24, according to ShipMatrix Inc.
UPS says it expects to deliver more than 700 million packages between Thanksgiving and Dec. 31, a 16.7% increase from last holiday season. FedEx says it expects a 10% increase in holiday shipping volume, and the Postal Service expects a 12% increase in package volume. Each carrier hired tens of thousands of seasonal employees to combat the increased workloads.