Some e-retailers are absorbing expedited shipping costs to take orders for goods for delivery by Christmas.

Many e-retailers are pushing to collect final online sales of holiday gifts this week, promoting extra-fast shipping options and, in the case of some chain retailers, their ability to ship goods to stores quickly or fulfill online orders from store stock. Meanwhile, online retailers for whom ordering deadlines have passed are moving into clearance mode.

The U.S. Postal Service expects Thursday (Dec. 22) to be its biggest package delivery day of the year; it expects carriers will deliver 30 million packages. Meanwhile, UPS Inc. says it expects to deliver 30 million packages daily this week, up from a 27 million daily average during the rest of the peak holiday delivery season, and it anticipates consumers will submit 204 million package tracking requests Wednesday as they look for packages—many of them shipped by e-retailers—en route.

E-retailers handed some of those packages off to carriers to fulfill orders placed as part of Free Shipping Day, the multiretailer promotion that offered free shipping on all orders placed Friday, Dec. 16. More than 1,200 online retailers participated, including Lululemon Athletica and Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic.  The FreeShippingDay.com website, which lists all the e-retailers participating in the official promotion, received more than 200,000 hits Dec. 16, organizers say. Consumers on desktop or laptop computers spent $967 million online Dec. 16, according to comScore Inc., which was up 14% from the comparable day in 2015.

Delivery data indicates UPS and FedEx Corp. were performing well headed into the final week before the holidays. For the Dec. 11-17 period, FedEx delivered 99.2% of packages shipped with ground service on time, and UPS delivered 98.5% of packages shipped with ground service on time, according to ShipMatrix tracking data. This performance is better than how the carriers performed during the comparable period a year ago, says Satish Jindel, president of ShipMatrix. Jindel says package volume at FedEx was 10% greater year over year last week, and up 14% at UPS.

In an interesting twist,  package carriers delivered a greater percentage of packages on time last week than commercial airlines delivered passengers. Jindel says airlines had an on-time performance rate of about 89%. In other words, packages had a greater chance of arriving on time than relatives flying in for the holidays. ShipMatrix analyzes on-time delivery rates for millions of packages delivered from more than 1,000 shipper customers. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear poor weather will contribute to delivery delays in the remaining days until Christmas and Hanukkah. The forecast is generally clear nationwide until Saturday, when some minor snow accumulations are predicted in the Great Lakes region, upper Midwest and some Western areas.

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Snow-free skies will help e-retailers that are still taking orders and promising delivery by Christmas.

Many e-retailers have switched from offering free standard shipping to offering free or discounted expedited shipping. For instance, FragranceNet.com, No. 170 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 1000, through noon Eastern on Dec. 21 offered free express shipping on products flagged with “quick gift” on the site. The e-retailer normally charges $11.95 for express shipping, or $5 more than its standard shipping fee when an order does not qualify for free shipping. Fruit gift e-retailer Hale Groves, part of No. 771-ranked e-retailer Southern Fulfillment Services LLC, offered a similar free upgrade to expedited shipping on an “express gift collection” of products. Apparel retailer J.Crew, meanwhile, discounted its overnight shipping fee to $10, normally $25.

J.Crew Group Inc. (No. 49), along with a host of other e-retailers, are making sure online shoppers know time is of the essence if they wish to get their orders by the holiday. J.Crew, in its daily email promotion and at the top of the home page, has a live countdown clock showing how much time remains to place orders so they can be shipped and delivered on time. Other e-retailers featuring a countdown clock in their emails or on their site include Overstock.com Inc. (No. 29) and Loft (part of Ascena Retail Group, No. 76).

Chain retailers are taking a different tack to draw last-minute shoppers. While some, like J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 33) and Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 12) are offering free expedited shipping, many are instead emphasizing the ability for consumers to place orders online and pick them up at a nearby store. Kohl’s Corp. (No. 19), for instance, is promoting “buy online, free store pickup” at the top of every Kohls.com page, and is reinforcing that option with a large pop-up banner at the bottom of the home page. Last month, Kohl’s executives said about 6% of online orders are picked up at a Kohl’s store and it wanted to improve that percentage during the holiday period. Most Kohl’s stores are now open 24 hours through 6 p.m. Dec. 24.

Macy’s Inc. (No. 6), whose order cutoff for items shipped with standard shipping to be delivered by Christmas was 5 p.m. Eastern Wednesday, is promoting its buy online, pick up in store option with a sweetener—consumers who use the service get a “wow” pass good for 15% or 20% off their next in-store purchase.

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Meanwhile, some online retailers are moving into clearance mode. Bambeco (No. 875), which sells eco-friendly home goods, started its “end of season clearance” sale today, offering up to 60% off merchandise. If a consumer hoped to get a Bambeco item under the tree by Christmas, he had to order by 2 p.m. Eastern Wednesday and pay for rush shipping.

Meanwhile e-retailers that sell goods with a manufacturing component, such as Zazzle Inc. (No. 148) and CafePress.com (No. 249), are promoting sitewide 20% off sales. Orders placed at this point in the season won’t arrive until after the holiday.

 

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