20% of the largest e-retailers' shipping deadlines are on Tuesday. But they aren't done finding ways to appeal to last-minute shoppers.

20% of the 25 largest online retailers in North America set Tuesday as their deadline for receiving online orders to ensure shoppers’ purchases arrive in time for Christmas. Another 16% have a Wednesday deadline. But even after those deadlines pass, many of those merchants have robust plans to garner a share of consumers’ last-minute purchases.

For instance, children’s apparel retailer Primary’s standard shipping cutoff date for guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery passed on Dec. 16, but the retailer will offer an expedited shipping option through Friday night while also offering shoppers the option to buy e-gift cards.

Meanwhile, a number of chain retailers aim to leverage their stores to drive sales closer to Christmas Day. For example, Walmart, No. 3 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000, set its cutoff for two-day shipping at Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. local time, but it will enable consumers to order some items as late as 4 p.m. local time on Dec. 23 and to pick those items up as late as 5 p.m. local time on Christmas Eve.

And then there’s Amazon, No. 1, which on Tuesday extended its free shipping deadline for all consumers to Wednesday. The e-commerce giant is also leveraging its logistics networks to enable its Prime members to take advantage of its Prime Now service to order as late as 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 24 to receive delivery by Christmas Day.


There are other ways that merchants are seeking to garner last-minute sales. Roughly 140 retailers, including Fanatics, No. 29, and Brooks Brothers, No.  161, offer free two-day shipping to members of ShopRunner‘s shipping service. ShopRunner’s deadline for guaranteed Christmas delivery is Dec. 19.

Beyond physical items, a slew of merchants, including Williams-Sonoma, No. 25, and Lowe’s, No. 21, plan to promote e-gift cards online as an option for last-minute shoppers. And then, there are roughly a half-dozen retailers, including Kenneth Cole, No. 590, and Neiman Marcus, No. 43, offering procrastinators another option: GiftNow, a digital gifting platform that enables last-minute shoppers to buy a gift online, but won’t ship until the recipient chooses among the item’s options, such as size and color.

Amazon looks to own last-minute orders

In addition to extending its offer of free shipping with no minimum purchase and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Day on millions of items to Dec. 19, Amazon is making a major push to drive members of its Prime loyalty program to make their last-minute purchases on its site and app. That’s a major customer segment; there are an estimated 97 million members of Amazon’s Prime loyalty program in the United States and those consumers can access Prime free two-day shipping everywhere through Dec. 22, Prime free one-day shipping in select areas through Dec. 23, as well as Prime free same-day shipping in select areas on Dec. 24 (for orders placed by 9:30 a.m. local time). Prime members also can leverage the retailer’s Prime Now service to get free two-hour delivery windows in eligible areas for delivery by Christmas Day (the guarantee is for orders placed by 9:15 p.m. local time).

The retailer also is leveraging its growing physical store network, which spans more than 100 Amazon store locations in 22 states, as well as 475 U.S. Whole Foods stores.

The retailer is promoting those stores for shoppers who need a gift on Christmas Eve. And, for the week leading up to Christmas Day, it is also increasing the incentive it offers Amazon Prime Rewards Visa cardholders who have a Prime membership to 10% back on purchases at Whole Foods stores rather than the 5% it usually offers. And, like many other online retailers, it is also promoting gift cards and e-gift cards.

How retailers are leveraging their stores

While the online cutoff date for guaranteed Christmas delivery for a broad swath of Walmart items is Thursday, the retail giant set a Dec. 22 cutoff date for a smaller selection of items online. And it aims to garner a larger share of sales by leveraging its stores. Consumers can order a gift online as late as Dec. 23 at 4 p.m. local time and pick it up in store by Dec. 24 until 5 p.m. local time.

Target, No. 17, is taking a similar approach. It offers guaranteed free shipping by Christmas Eve on orders placed online by 11:55 Central Standard Time on Thursday; to ensure the item arrives in time, a shopper has to select “free holiday shipping” at checkout. The retailer also is offering express one-day shipping for orders placed by Dec. 21.

Shoppers also can place an order on Target.com or the Target app for same-day order pickup or use the Target app for Drive Up curbside delivery service nationwide until 6 p.m. local time on Christmas Eve when the retailer’s stores will close at 10 p.m. local time. Target also is leveraging Shipt, the shipping service the retailer bought last year for $550 million. Consumers can place an order through Shipt.com or the Shipt app for a variety of items by 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve for same-day delivery.

Why fulfillment centers matter

While Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are bigger holidays for The Bouqs Co., the online florist expects to generate about a quarter of its annual sales this November and December. That’s thanks in part to the retailer’s investment in fulfillment centers, says Phil Irvine, the retailer’s director of customer relationship management.

The retailer forecasts a significant boost in revenue this holiday season compared with last year, in part because of the retailer’s investment in six distribution centers across the country, which will enable it to deliver items ordered on Christmas Eve on Christmas Day (roughly half of its orders are shipped via distribution centers). Last year, it didn’t have any distribution centers; it only rented facilities during Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. The outcome was slower, more fractured delivery times that resulted in it setting its Christmas Eve delivery cutoff date as Dec. 18.


“A big driver this season is our ability to satisfy shoppers looking for same- and next-day orders,” Irvine says.

Online retailers focus on digital gifting

Not every retailer is confident in its ability to get items to shoppers’ doors quickly. That’s why Susan Tynan, CEO of custom framing retailer Framebridge, set the retailer’s cutoff date as Dec. 17, which is the same date it had a year ago.

“Looking at the production calendar, we tripled our capacity at our production facility,” she says. “We’re running 24-hour shifts the entire season, and we know what we can produce. By setting the deadline at the 17th, we feel that we’ve built in a few days to ensure we’ll meet our customers’ expectations. And, if we’re running behind schedule, we’ll expedite those shipments.”

Primary took a similar approach by setting a Dec. 17 cutoff date. “We’re a young company and that’s led us to have a more conservative approach to avoid disappointing customers,” says Alex Kazickas, the retailer’s director of operations.


That’s important as 56% of consumers were disappointed by fulfillment issues, such as orders being late, last holiday season, according to recent Pitney Bowes survey. That’s up from 47% a year earlier.

“That number is getting higher over time, which is why retailers are focusing on how they can avoid disappointing shoppers,” says Lila Snyder, executive vice president and president, commerce services at Pitney Bowes.

Retailers, such as Primary, are offering expedited shipping for those consumers willing to pay for it, while also highlighting e-gift cards as another option for last-minute shoppers. “We want to give shoppers options,” Kazikcas says.

Another option that some merchants, including Target, are taking is GiftNow. The service, which is owned by Synchrony, enables a consumer to pick out a gift he thinks his friend will like at Target.com. Rather than click the Add to Cart button, he pushes the GiftNow button on the product page. He then selects the delivery method, which can be email, text or social media message, and Target will send a note to the recipient saying she received a gift. She can then choose different options, such as the size or color. Or, if she doesn’t want the gift, she can exchange it for a gift card before it ships.


“There are so many barriers to buying a gift online,” says Roy Erez, CEO and founder of Loop Commerce, which is GiftNow’s parent company. “There are so many stores, so many options, you need someone’s address and then, you might have missed the cutoff date.”

GiftNow aims to address those challenges, he says. Because it allows last-minute shoppers to buy “thoughtful” gifts, he expects 40% of the company’s November and December revenue to occur in the week leading up to Christmas Day.