Despite the best intentions, holiday shopping often gets left until the last minute. There’s always one more person to shop for, one more must-have gift to buy, leading to a scramble at the eleventh hour.
Nearly half of holiday shopping now happens online, which means shipping time has to be factored into almost every purchase. In fact, the United States Postal Service estimates that this year 15.5 billion parcels, cards and letters will be sent during the holiday season, a 10% increase over last year.
This year, Christmas falls on a Friday, so try to place your orders (or mail any packages) the week before, from Dec. 14 to 18. The longer the window of time you allow for the package to arrive, the better. If a retailer states it will take three to six business days, assume it will take the full six.
Here’s a list of the last-chance dates for guaranteed arrival before Christmas:
Amazon clearly lays out its shipping dates, both for Amazon Prime members and regular shoppers. All dates apply to items that are in the warehouse, so make sure the retailer has what you’re looking for in its warehouse before you order.
- Dec. 16: Last day for free (non-Prime member) shipping
- Dec. 18: Last day for standard shipping
- Dec. 22: Last day for 2-day shipping
- Dec. 23: Last day for 1-day shipping
- Dec. 24: Same-day delivery
For Prime members, two-day shipping is always free. Same-day shipping is available to Prime members at no charge in the following areas: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Ft. Worth, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, the Tampa Bay area and Washington, D.C. Amazon will accept returns on purchases made between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 until January 31, 2016.
Online shoppers will receive free standard shipping for purchases made through Dec. 25. Delivery time is quoted at three to five business days. So if you want to ensure your package will get there before Santa does, place your order on or before Dec. 18. For rush delivery, orders must be placed by 1:30 p.m. local time Monday through Saturday to be delivered the same day. Rush delivery is available only in the Boston, Miami and Minneapolis areas.
Wal-Mart offers free shipping on orders of $50 or more, and the window for arrival is four to seven business days. The retailer tacks on one or two days to process the order, plus the standard three to five business days. Expedited and rush delivery are available, although there isn’t a set rate; the price is determined by the item ordered. Wal-Mart encourages shoppers to order online and pick up merchandise at their neighborhood stores.
- Dec. 14: Last day for a Value shipping order, Wal-Mart’s most economical shipping option, which takes six to nine business days
- Dec. 16: Last day for standard shipping (three to five business days)
- Dec. 22: Last day for an expedited order (two to three days)
- Dec. 23: Last day for a rush order (one to two days)
At Macy’s, the date you can expect your purchase to arrive will depend on its category. The shipping times listed below don’t apply to lamps, area rugs, furniture, mattresses, light fixtures and custom-fit rings. Check the website for more details. But for everything else (assuming it’s in stock), the following shipping days apply:
- Dec. 22 at 5 p.m. Eastern: Last day for standard shipping (free with purchases of $99 or more)
- Dec. 23 at noon Eastern: Last day for express shipping
- Dec. 24 before noon local time: Last time to pick up your item in the store, if you buy it online
If you place your order within the above timeline and your package still doesn’t arrive, Macy’s promises a gift card of equal value to the item (maximum $100). This does not apply if a late arrival is due to poor weather, labor strikes or natural disasters.
This department store is very clear on its “last days before Christmas” shipping dates for sending gifts within the contiguous U.S.
- Dec. 20: Last day for standard shipping on in-stock items
- Dec. 21: Last day for express two-day delivery
- Dec. 23: Last day for expedited one-day delivery (on most orders) if placed before 2 p.m. Central
Toys R Us
Toys R Us has a helpful shipping calendar so you’ll know exactly when your orders will arrive. Orders must be made by noon Eastern, and shipping charges are lower on orders of $19 or more.
- Dec. 14: Last day for economy shipping (six to nine days). The cost is $5.99 for orders under $19, and free for orders over $19.
- Dec. 19, noon Eastern: Last day for standard shipping (two to five days). Cost is $7.99 for orders under $19, and $4.99 for orders $19 and over.
- Dec. 23, noon Eastern: Last day for express shipping (one to two days); cost is $29.99. To be sure your gift arrives by Christmas, it’s recommended to order and send by Dec. 23.
You’ll want to make sure those under things, pajamas and fragrances arrive on time. Victoria’s Secret lists the following deadlines for orders and deliveries.
- Dec. 16 by 5 p.m. Eastern: Last day for standard shipping rates
- Dec. 18 and 21 by 5 p.m. Eastern: Last day for 3rd business day or Saturday delivery (order by Dec. 18). Cost is $7.99 plus shipping rates; Saturday delivery is $23.99 in addition to shipping charges.
- Dec. 22 by 5 p.m. Eastern: Last day for 2nd business day express. Cost is $10.99 plus shipping rates.
- Dec. 23 by 5 p.m. Eastern: Last day for Next-day Business rates; cost is $17.99 in addition to standard shipping and handling rates.
The consumer electronics retailer is offering free shipping during the holiday season. Follow its timeline to make sure everything from earbuds to laptops arrives at your door before Dec. 25.
- Dec. 17: Last day for standard shipping (three to seven business days)
- Dec. 22: Last day for expedited shipping (arrives in two business days)
- Dec. 23: Last day for express shipping (arrives in one business day)
If you plan to do the wrapping and mailing yourself, keep these dates in mind if you’re using delivery services within the United States.
FedEx offers shipping right up to Christmas Day. Here are the last-chance dates to ship in order to make sure your gifts arrive in time:
- Dec. 14: Last day to ship via FedEx SmartPost
- Dec. 16: Last day to ship via FedEx Home Delivery and FedEx Ground
- Dec. 21: Last day to ship via FedEx Express Saver
- Dec. 22: Last day to ship via FedEx 2Day and FedEx 2Day a.m.
- Dec. 23: Last day to ship via FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight and FedEx First Overnight
- Dec. 25: Last day to ship via FedEx SameDay
U.S. Postal Service:
The Postal Service predicts the biggest day for shipping will be Dec. 14. If you’re using standard mail, USPS can guarantee a before-Christmas delivery if the package is postmarked by Dec. 15. Here are the last days to ship up until Christmas to ensure that your gifts will get there in time:
- Dec. 21: Last day to ship through Priority Mail
- Dec. 23: Last day to ship through Priority Mail Express
Remember to save your tracking numbers and use them; you’ll be able to see where the package is and when it’s due to arrive. Shipping rates differ for addresses in Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories; check your local post office for specifics.
United Parcel Service (UPS):
To some, UPS’ big brown trucks are just as much a symbol of the holidays as a Christmas tree or Santa. To ensure delivery by Dec. 25, note these dates:
- Dec. 18: Last day for UPS 3 Day Select to ensure delivery by Dec. 23
- Dec. 21: Last day for UPS 2nd Day Air to ensure delivery by Dec. 24
- Dec. 23: last Day for UPS Next Day Air to ensure delivery in time for Christmas Day
After all the gift shopping is done and you’ve found the perfect presents, the last thing you’d want is for bad weather or overloaded carriers to interfere with their arrival. Put as much thought into your shipping plan as your shopping plan, because even though retailers can deliver up until the last minute, the charges increase dramatically as the Dec. 25 deadline approaches.
Image via iStock.