2018 Holiday Shipping Deadlines + Ecommerce Fulfillment Strategies

Halloween has come to a close, which can only signal one thing: the official start of the holiday shopping season. Though it may feel too early for tinsel and gingerbread men, you might be surprised to learn that almost half of holiday shoppers have already started buying gifts.

However, it’s the 126 million who save their holiday shopping for the last minute that you really need to focus on.

And while consumers may appear divided about when they’ll get their gifts, holiday shoppers are clear about where they’ll be getting them: online. In fact, ecommerce holiday sales are expected to surpass $120 billion this season – up 15.5% from 2017.

The increased sales could be great for your profit margins. That is provided you perfect your fulfillment methods in advance. After all, with more orders to deliver, there’s always a higher chance of shipping issues.

To avoid delays and disappointments, commit these 2018 holiday shipping cutoff dates to memory. Then, ready your workshop with some shipping strategies and best practices.

Holiday Shipping Stats

The magnitude of mail that gets sent this time of year is enough to make even the likes of Kris Kringle quit his day job.

In the roughly six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, each of the three major carriers will deliver hundreds of millions of packages. Here’s what your online store can look forward to contending with this shipping season:

  • The 15 billion pieces of mail and more than 850 million packages delivered by USPS.
  • An estimated 750 million international packages at the hands of UPS.
  • At least 400 million parcels from FedEx delivery drivers.

Don’t want to get lost in the shuffle of the some 50 million holiday packages that are delivered each day? Start by marking your calendar with these holiday shipping deadlines.

2018 Holiday Shipping Cutoff Dates

Given the sheer volume of packages, it’s no wonder shoppers cited shipping delays as their #1 holiday stressor. We imagine the same is true of ecommerce merchants, too.

These quick reference charts were created to put everyone’s mind at ease. To avoid missing a holiday shipping deadline, share these important 2018 shipping dates with your employees and customers alike.




Need a visual reminder? ShipStation drew up this easy-to-follow infographic to help. Print out or download and post in the most high traffic areas of your shop or site.

FedEx and UPS created something similar in case they’re your preferred delivery service.

For international orders, refer to these popular country carriers:

So you know when to send, and now it’s time to shape up your holiday shipping strategy.

Holiday Shipping Best Practices

In addition to the all-important dates above, we’ve curated some other shipping tips to make sure your holiday order fulfillment strategy is merry and right.

1. Clearly communicate your “Order By” date. It’s not enough to provide seasonal shipping deadlines and call it a holiday. To figure out how much processing time to account for, work backwards. For example, if it takes you two days to get an item packaged and dropped at the post office make sure that’s built in to the expected delivery date and clearly communicated. (eg: order by December 16th for delivery by December 24th) The more you focus on setting realistic expectations with your customers, the more opportunities you will have to delight them.

2. Promote ready-to-ship, last-minute gifts. 30% of all holiday spending happens the week before Christmas. You can prioritize customers who’ve waited to purchase their presents by promoting ready-made items or gift cards that can be postmarked the day they’re ordered.

3. Keep your shipping prices competitive. Free shipping is routinely cited as a perk that would encourage holiday shoppers to buy online. In fact, 80% of consumers polled said no shipping fees and fast delivery options were the two most important factors when making holiday purchasing decisions. Just make sure to double check that your carrier isn’t assessing any surcharges for shipping during peak dates before you offer free holiday shipping.

4. Make it easy to return product. Some holiday sales will become holiday returns. It’s inevitable. The good news is that a well-crafted returns and exchange policy and a positive experience can turn a new customer into a repeat customer. Some return ideas to make your return policy more alluring:

  • Offer free return shipping
  • Include a return label with proper packaging
  • Give automatic refunds
  • Make it as transparent as possible
    Ensure your team is briefed on how to handle returns, too. Otherwise it could cause your business to bottleneck.

5. Have a plan for managing mishaps. One winter storm could temporarily derail your entire operation. And though it may be completely unexpected and outside your control, your customers may still hold you responsible. (Rudolph forbid you miss a special delivery and ruin someone’s holiday!) The important thing is how you respond and make up for it. That alone will largely determine whether you’ll be remembered as a Grinch or a Christmas miracle.

In a few weeks the stockings will all have been hung with care. It’s your job to make sure they’re filled. Follow these important 2018 holiday shipping dates and fulfillment tactics, and you’re sure to deliver customers an unforgettable shopping season.

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