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The most common holiday shipping deadlines and associated promotions show retailer timelines for hitting year-end targets.

Holiday shipping deadlines slowly began going into effect during the first week of December, and even more will kick in as Christmas gets closer. That means retailers are pushing seasonal promotions and multiple options to lock in sales for the last month of 2023.

A new survey across a panel of 100 online retailers by Digital Commerce 360 shows which dates are most popular for holiday shipping deadlines, as well as which tactics companies are using to turn inventory into purchases.

Cutoff dates for holiday shipments

Among retailers who listed or linked to cutoff dates on their homepages as of Dec. 7, the median cutoff date for standard shipping to deliver orders in time for Christmas in 2023 was Dec. 15, researchers at Digital Commerce 360 found. For orders using any type of available shipping, that same median cutoff date was Dec. 18.

Those dates fall very close to deadlines posted by the United States Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS. USPS lists Dec. 16 as the cutoff for its five-day shipping services via USPS Ground Advantage and First-Class Mail; Dec. 18 is its cutoff date for four-day shipping; and Dec. 21 is its final date for customers using USPS’s single-day Priority Mail Express option.


FedEx, meanwhile, requires parcels by Dec. 13 to deliver by Christmas via its Ground Economy services; FedEx Ground five-day shipping lists a Dec. 15 cutoff; and one-day shipping for Christmas will stop being available after Dec. 21.

At UPS, Dec. 19 is the final day to ship with three-day delivery in time for Dec. 23 arrivals. Dec. 20 and 21 are the cutoff dates for two- and one-day shipments.

Promotions on retailers’ homepages

On the homepages of retailers surveyed, one-third made their holiday shipping deadlines visible. Those alerts were accompanied by additional promotions, which varied by brand.


Omnichannel fulfillment options proved to be one common option, appearing on 31% of sites in the survey group. The most used example in that category was buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) calls to action, which was used by 80.6% of sites promoting omnichannel. Curbside pickup (16.1%) and same-day (16.1%) delivery were also listed, with next-day delivery (6.5%) less common.

Macy’s, for example, promotes same-day delivery, pick-up at local Macy’s locations, and an option to pick up at UPS Access Points.

For Office Depot, its homepage promotions to buyers include same-day delivery, free next-business-day delivery, and free store and curbside pickup in 20 minutes. In March, Jamie Columbus, vice president of omnichannel at Office Depot Inc., said the chain achieved a 98.9% success rate making online orders available for pickup within 20 minutes of orders being placed. Ahead of the holiday season, it also pushed BNPL PayPal and an extended holiday return window through Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024.

Last-minute options for shoppers

With record-setting days for U.S. ecommerce responsible for $38.1 billion in sales from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday in 2023, retailers and analysts saw surprises to the upside. In the homestretch to the end of December, major brands are trying out both new and familiar incentives to get the orders they need to hit fourth-quarter targets.


At Barnes & Noble, for instance — where the cutoff day for standard shipping by Christmas is Dec. 16, express shipping is Dec. 18, and expedited shipping is Dec. 19 — the company has revived its extended holiday return policy. That means making purchases from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 refundable or exchangeable through Jan. 31, 2024. For customers too late to get products shipped, the book retailer lists one last option on Dec. 25, which is to order an electronic gift card for instant delivery.

Meanwhile, apparel brand Lululemon lists a Dec. 20 deadline to get orders delivered by Dec. 24, adding that it will “automatically upgrade your shipping to make sure your package arrives on time.” The company has expressed cautious optimism about its holiday results so far.

“We’re pleased with the trends we’ve seen at the start of the holiday season,” said Meghan Frank, chief financial officer at Lululemon, during the company’s third-quarter earnings call on Dec. 7. “That being said, the majority of the quarter remains in front of us. We remain aware of the uncertainties in the macro environment, and we continue to plan the business for multiple scenarios.”

Macy’s ranks No. 17 in the 2023 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, a ranking of North America’s leading retailers by online sales. Office Depot (No. 24) and Lululemon (No. 27) also rank among the top 50. Barnes & Noble ranks No. 106.


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