Your Holiday Gifts Still Haven’t Arrived. Now What?

Lauren Schwahn
By Lauren Schwahn 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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You placed an order last week and still haven’t received the shipping confirmation. Or maybe the package is in transit, but its location hasn't been updated in days.

The supply chain issues that experts warned us about heading into the holiday shopping season have materialized. There’s a real possibility that your gifts won’t arrive in time for holiday celebrations. So what are your options?

If you still want the gift

Double-check the order status

Retailers and shipping carriers are overloaded during the busy holiday season and may simply be slow to provide updates. Be patient and wait it out another day or two, if you can. There’s a good chance the package is in motion and will arrive in time.

If you’re concerned, call or email the retailer’s customer service. A representative may be able to share more details about your online order or work with you to find a solution. For example, if it turns out your item got lost in the shuffle, perhaps the seller will resend it at an expedited shipping speed.

You can also try reaching out directly to the carrier. “If it’s actually in transit, the retailer more than likely will have just about as much information as you. Once it’s left them, it’s really in the hands of that transportation provider at that point,” says G. Tony Bell, an assistant professor in the department of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School.

Set up tracking alerts

Shoppers can use apps such as Deliveries or AfterShip to track packages coming from multiple retailers or carriers in one place, says Jane Boyd Thomas, a marketing professor at Winthrop University in South Carolina. You can also set up notifications to receive automatic order updates.

What should you do if you get a delivery notice but don’t see the package? “Before you start spinning your wheels backtracking it, ask your neighbors,” Thomas says. If it’s still nowhere to be found, follow up with the retailer or shipping service.

Give a place holder

If it appears the gift won’t arrive on schedule, think of a creative backup plan. Write a description of the present in a card or print out a picture and put it in a gift-wrapped box, “kind of like an IOU that it’s coming,” Thomas says. That way, the recipient still gets the experience of opening a gift, even though the item isn’t physically present.

Is your giftee more the instant-gratification type? Get a bonus gift to hold them over until the package arrives. Bell suggests something smaller or less expensive than the original gift.

Either way you go, be upfront about the situation. It’s important to set expectations, “especially with children, who may not be as open to something alternative or something different,” Bell says.

If you no longer want the gift

Pick a replacement

If the order goes haywire or waiting just isn’t worth the hassle, it might be best to scrap the original idea completely. You can get a thoughtful new present even if there’s no time to ship something else. Reliable last-minute options include an electronic gift card or booking an experience, such as a camping trip or spa day.

If you prefer to give something tangible, Thomas recommends shopping at local small businesses. “Many of them will have great gift ideas for you that you haven’t even thought of. So you’re not only going to get a gift, you’re probably going to have something hopefully even more unique,” she says.

Retailers big and small may run sales on Super Saturday, the final Saturday before Christmas. Prepare to shop or pick up orders in-store to get discounted gifts in hand by the holidays.

Cancel or return the item

You can usually cancel an order that hasn't processed or shipped and get a full refund. But even if you miss the cancellation period, you can likely return the item after it arrives.

Many retailers have extended holiday return policies. However, certain items or categories may be excluded. For example, Macy’s has a 90-day return window for most items, but a 14-day window for Apple products and tech accessories.

Check retailers’ websites for policy details. Read the fine print carefully to make sure you understand the conditions and deadlines.

Take a 14-day return policy, for instance. “Does it mean the day that it leaves their warehouse? Is that when the clock on 14 days for returns starts ticking? Is it the day that it leaves there, or is it the day that it shows up at your doorstep?” Thomas says.

You’ll also want to pay close attention to things like whether you can return the item in-store instead of shipping it back, and whether you’ll get refunded in the original form of payment or in-store credit. If something isn’t clear, give the retailer a call or use the online chat function to ask questions, Thomas says.