Retailers Adjust Shipping Dates to Avoid Christmas Disappointment

Loading PackagesIf you remember last year’s Christmas Season headlines, you’ll recall that late deliveries caused a lot of embarrassment for some major retailers. They had guaranteed package deliveries in time for Christmas, but a perfect storm of natural conditions sent many of those promises to the dustheap of retail history.

First, the Polar Vortex wreaked havoc on the transportation network. Trucks were bogged down on the highways, airports were closed, it was a nightmare for the shipping industry. Second, the shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas were far fewer than average and that made packages in the shipping pipeline get bunched up like a boa constrictor trying to digest a rabbit.

Stores pulling back

All of this has made retailers a little gun shy going into Holiday Season 2014. According to’s eHoliday survey, retailers are pulling back their guaranteed Christmas delivery dates so that they expire at least a week before the kids wake up extra early and head to the tree. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed said they were going this more conservative route, compared to a about 74 percent last year.

Also, those attractive “Order by December 19 and receive your package in time for Christmas” deals will be a little more scarce this year. Retailers making that ambitious promise are decreasing from 26.3 percent to 21.2 percent.

The big lesson here is that you need to keep your Christmas promises, whether you’re a parent or a retailer. If your business relies on shipping for fulfillment, review the information you’re giving your customers and the commitments you are making. This can be a delicate balancing act: You need to balance competitiveness with worst case scenarios. Consider free or discounted upgrades for expedited shipping and see calendar dates such as “December 22″ as marketing opportunities: Order by December 22 and select our special rate two-day shipping to get your package before Christmas!

Package tracking is a must

Iffy weather in December also puts package tracking at a premium. Customers will want to know if their package is stuck in Chicago waiting for O’hare to reopen; it lets them make alternate plans. If tracking isn’t standard in your business, it probably should be and is certainly something you should add at no charge during the holiday crunch. Also, promptly communicate any snags to your customers.

The flip side of this for local retailers is to be sure that you have sufficient stock on hand. Failing to have an advertised item is worse than receiving a package late due to a Nor’easter. The weather event is an act of nature, people eventually understand. Not ordering enough is a management problem.

Every year the mainstream media reports on the importance of the holiday shopping season to retailers’ bottom lines. If you’re a retailer you understand that. Give this short, four-week shopping period the special attention it requires. You’ll still be thanking yourself in July.

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Image: “US Navy 060828-N-2716P-014 Postal clerks assigned to Fleet Mail Center, Yokohama, unload a truck of incoming mail so that it can be inspected, processed and distributed” by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul J. Phelps. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.