The Complete 2020 Small Business Guide To Holiday Shipping: Deadlines, Prices, & How To Save
The holiday season is upon us! For many small businesses, this is the busiest time of the year for sales and shipping, so busy that UPS is said to have delivered over 800 million packages in 2018 during the holidays alone.
In today’s world, consumers are accustomed to inexpensive and fast shipping, which means making a holiday shipping plan is essential. But how do you prepare for such a busy season as a business owner? What are your best shipping options? And how do you get the best rates to make your customers happy and compete in a space with Amazon and other two-day shipping providers?
Heading into the holiday season blind, without information about shipping rates and times, is an expensive mistake you can’t afford to make. It’s important to understand what customers want in shipping rates, the shipping methods customers prefer, and how to navigate general holiday busyness. We’ll answer all these questions and more to help your business handle holiday shipping with ease.
Here is what you need to know about holiday shipping 2019.
Table of Contents
The Best Holiday Shipping Options For Your Business
Holiday shipping choices are an integral part of your overall business strategy, especially during the holidays. Even though the small business holiday season starts with Halloween, don’t let your shipping start with a scare. Learn what shipping options you have ahead of time so you can be prepared and ease the stress of the holidays.
In today’s small business world, there are more shipping options than ever, whether you outsource or use software apps and software. That means the holiday shipping rush doesn’t need to be crazy. Still, when it comes to shipping options, there are really three major contenders: The United States Postal Service (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS), and FedEx.
We’ll explain what services each provides, how much they cost, and which is the best to use for your shipping needs. And, if none of these fit your needs, we’ll also cover the best shipping software and outsourcing options.
|Small Business Shipping Options||Best For|
|USPS||Affordability and saving money when packages don’t need to arrive quickly|
|UPS||Fast deliveries with guaranteed shipping, package tracking, and no peak surcharges|
|FedEx||Fast deliveries with package tracking and Saturday shipping|
|Shipping Software||Streamlining your shipping process and integrating with your eCommerce site|
|Outsourcing||Business owners who are too busy to handle shipping themselves|
Best for affordability and saving money when packages don’t need to arrive quickly.
United States Postal Service, better known as USPS, is the undisputed king of shipping. The USPS can be a great option for holiday shipping and it competes well with the private companies in terms of options and prices. It is still the preferred method to ship to military bases or PO Boxes. With free pick-up scheduled at residences and businesses all over the United States, small businesses can save money on shipping using USPS, especially if you ship:
- Heavy and small objects
- Light and bulky objects
You may get a commercial shipping price if you are a business that qualifies and the USPS also has sales reps that can come out to your business and help you make shipping plans.
- Economical for small businesses
- Delivers everywhere
- Free pick-up
- Free Saturday delivery
- Poor customer service
- Not great for large, unwieldy, or bulk packages
There are several shipping options with USPS. Here is a basic rundown of each option.
- USPS Retail Ground®: This is a shipping service for packages, thick envelopes, or tubes that do not exceed 70lbs. Cost is based on weight, size, and location of the shipment. The speed for Retail Ground is between 2-8 days, depending on the distance the package needs to travel. This shipping method is deliverable to PO Boxes and military bases. It is only available for purchase in-person at a US postal office.
- First-Class Mail®: This is for envelopes or small packages that weigh less than 13oz. Cost is based on weight, size, and location. The speed for First-Class Mail is 1-3 days, and it is only available for purchase in-person at a US postal office.
- Priority Mail®: This is a shipping service for packages that has a flat-rate, regional rate, and retail rate. Priority Mail regional and retail rates are based on weight, size, and zone. However, the flat-rate covers up to 70lbs without a need to weigh. Mail arrives between 1-3 days, and you can purchase this option in-person or online.
- Priority Mail Express®: This is the USPS option for overnight guaranteed shipping. It also includes free pick-up at your home or office. That overnight shipping is guaranteed…or your money back…and includes insurance. (Although, for the holiday season, there is some fine print: the money-back guarantee is only applicable if the package hasn’t been delivered after two business days if it’s mailed between December 22-December 25, due to the volume of mail.) The rate is based on weight, size, and location of the shipment destination. You can purchase this option in-person or online.
- Media Mail®: If you are a business that sells items that classify as media items then you might be able to use Media Mail® to ship items as an economical option. This is for videos, books, CDs, etc. This isn’t the best option for time-sensitive material as it takes anywhere between 2-10 days for delivery. It is only available in-person at a post office.
How Much Does USPS Holiday Shipping Cost?
The USPS website has a useful and easy-to-navigate shipping calculator. You can use it to get an estimate for your shipping rate. If your shipping method is available via their Click-N-Ship® option, you can sign-in to your account, select shipping type, pay, and print your label. Small businesses can use Click-N-Ship® to create batch shipments or order flat-rate boxes to be delivered directly to your home/place of business. Pick-up at residences and almost all business locations is free.
For international shipping prices, visit the USPS business prices page. Prices listed below are up-to-date as of October 30, 2019.
|Shipping Service||Price||Delivery Time||Price Details|
|USPS Retail Ground||Starts at $7.35||2-8 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location; only available in-person at a post office|
|First-Class Mail||Starts at $0.33||1-3 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location; for envelopes or small packages up to 13oz|
|Priority Mail||Starts at $7.35; *flat-rate boxes available||1-3 days||Flat-rate boxes prices do not vary based on weight or destination location; non-flat-rate box priority mail rates are based on weight, size, and destination location|
|Priority Mail Express||Starts at $25.50||Overnight||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|Media Mail||Starts at $2.75||2-10 days||Only available in-person at a post office|
*USPS also has flat-rate prices their priority mail service. With flat-rate boxes and envelopes, weight and destination do not affect pricing. If you can fit it, it’ll ship for the pre-determined price. Prices listed below are up-to-date as of October 30, 2019.
|Letter Envelope||12 1/2″ x 9 1/2″||$6.95|
|Small Envelopes||10” x 6”||$6.95|
|Padded Envelopes||12 1/2″ x 9 1/2″||$7.55|
|Small Box||8 11/16″ x 5 7/16″ x 1 3/4″||$7.50|
|Medium Box||11 1/4″ x 8 3/4″ x 6″ or 14″ x 12″ x 3 1/2″||$12.80|
|Large Box||12-1/4″ x 12-1/4″ x 6″ or 24-1/16″ x 11-7/8″ x 3-1/8″||$17.60|
|APO/FPO Box||12-1/4″ x 12-1/4″ x 6″||$16.10|
When To Use USPS For Holiday Shipping?
If you are a low-volume merchant, USPS does free pick-up, and you can use the Click-N-Ship® method for the shipping services available. The entire process is quick and simple. Click-N-Ship® is the most economical, it reaches all households/PO Boxes, and can be a great option this holiday season when time isn’t of the essence. USPS overwhelmingly provides the best experience for most small businesses and eCommerce merchants. UPS and FedEx can’t compete with the prices and speed for lightweight (under 2lbs) packages. If that applies to your shipments, then this is your best choice.
Best for fast deliveries with guaranteed shipping, package tracking, and no peak surcharges.
We recognize those trademark brown vans anywhere. UPS (United Parcel Service) is a favorite among merchants because of their amazing customer service, package tracking abilities, and reliability. However, it is the most expensive option whether you ship from a regular pick-up or from a retail shop. It is notable, though, that UPS does not have any peak pricing or peak surcharges this year.
- Great tracking
- Reliable expedited shipping
- No holiday peak pricing surcharges
- No free pick-up
- More expensive than most
- No Saturday delivery
Unfortunately, UPS does not have free pick-up nor Saturday delivery, but it does have top-notch tracking and excellent uniforms. Reliability and ease of tracking are two of the positives of using UPS for business shipping.
Here is the rundown of shipping options available at UPS.
- Ground: This is the most economical option. Using Ground, a package will arrive between 1-5 days. Pricing is based on the weight, size, and package destination.
- UPS 3-day Select®: This option promises that your package will be delivered by the end of the third business day. Pricing is based on the weight, size, and package destination. (An AM option is also available for a fee; your package will be delivered by the morning of the third business day.)
- UPS 2nd Day Air®: This option promises that your package will be delivered by the end of the second business day. Pricing is based on the weight, size, and package destination. (An AM option is also available for a fee; your package will be delivered by the morning of the second business day.)
- UPS Next Day Air®: As it sounds, this option is a next day overnight shipment. (An AM option is also available for a fee; your package will be delivered by the morning of the next business day.)
- UPS Express Critical®: Details aren’t posted, but if you need a critical rush, UPS is dedicated to helping you get your package where it needs to go. This assuredly-not-cheap option can involve a private charter or courier to deliver your shipment.
How Much Does UPS Holiday Shipping Cost?
There is no surcharge or peak pricing for 2019.
UPS also has a handy calculator to determine shipping costs. Prices for shipping are different for daily rates or retail rates. Daily rates are for businesses with a scheduled UPS pick-up. Retail rates are the shipping rates you will pay if you go into a local UPS retail location. The fees for scheduling a pick-up start at $13.45.
Here’s a breakdown of UPS’s shipping by service. Prices listed below are up-to-date as of October 30, 2019.
|Shipping Service||Price||Delivery Time||Price Details|
|Ground||Starts at $12.32||1-5 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|UPS 3-day Select||Starts at $11.23||3 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|UPS 2nd Day Air||Starts at $18.40||2 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|UPS Next Day Air||Starts at $24.70||Next business day||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|UPS Express Critical||Varies||Contact UPS||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
When To Use UPS For Holiday Shipping?
UPS has great tracking. If you have a package you need delivered fast and you want to keep a close eye on its travels, then UPS might be worth the extra cost. Tracking and guaranteed speed are the two reasons to choose UPS over USPS. While some small businesses have amazing relationships with their UPS drivers, most small businesses and eCommerce sites won’t want to pay the pick-up fees or increased rate prices by heading into a store.
Best for fast deliveries with package tracking and Saturday shipping.
Our Merchant Maverick shipping expert makes the claim that the differences between UPS and FedEx are negligible. However, FedEx, like USPS, does have Saturday delivery, and they tout a more involved tracking system, too. There are fewer FedEx stores in the United States, so locations are limited, and that could add time to delivery for remote locations.
- Excellent tracking
- Saturday delivery
- Fewer locations
- No free pick-up
- Can be expensive
- Holiday peak pricing/surcharges
FedEx offers several shipping options, which vary depending on how quickly you need your packages to arrive.
- Ground: Prices for Ground shipping are based on package weight, size, and destination location. Shipments will arrive between 1-7 business days. Ground shipping is only provided for Monday-Friday delivery days.
- FedEx Express Saver®: Prices for the FedEx Express Saver® shipping are based on package weight, size, and destination location. Your shipment will arrive between 1-3 business days.
- FedEx 2Day Air®: Prices for FedEx 2Day Air® are based on package weight, size, and destination location. Your shipment will arrive by the end of business on the 2nd day. (You can also purchase 2Day® AM and make sure your package is delivered by the morning.)
- FedEx Standard Overnight®: Prices are based on package weight, size, and destination location. Your package will arrive by the next business day.
- FedEx Priority Overnight®: Your package will arrive by mid-morning the next business day.
How Much Does FedEx Holiday Shipping Cost?
For the holiday 2019 season, FedEx does have peak and surcharge fees. Surcharge fees start at $4.20. You may also need to pay a fee for a package traveling to a remote area. You can use their rate calculator here and view a breakdown of their pricing details below. Prices listed below are up-to-date as of October 30, 2019.
|Shipping Service||Price||Delivery Time||Price Details|
|Ground||Starts at $7.85||1-7 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|FedEx Express Saver||Starts at $16.07||1-3 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|FedEx 2Day Air||Starts at $18.22||2 days||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|FedEx Standard Overnight||Starts at $27.19||Next business day||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
|FedEx Priority Overnight||Starts at $29.18||Mid-morning on the next business day||Prices based on package weight, size, and destination location|
FedEx also has flat-rate prices. With flat-rate boxes and envelopes, weight and destination do not affect pricing. If you can fit it, it’ll ship for the pre-determined price. Prices listed below are up-to-date as of October 30, 2019.
When To Use FedEx For Holiday Shipping?
If you are close to a FedEx store or need a very detailed tracking provider, this is a solid choice. Pricing between UPS and FedEx is similar and inconsistent (some years one is more economical, the next year the other one is; it’s impossible to tell you which one is the best option). So, this comes down to your own preference. This year, FedEx does have peak/surcharge pricing for the holiday season (which UPS does not have this year), but the pricing differences between UPS and FedEx are negligible.
Best for streamlining your shipping process and integrating with your eCommerce site.
As your holiday sales increase and shipping demands get cumbersome, it might be time to look into using shipping software to help with some of the details. Shipping software is a helpful tool to streamline the shipping aspect of your business. If the information about shipping prices and options above made your head hurt a little, that’s okay. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do shipping calculations yourself, finding shipping software that works for you can cut time off your precious holiday work hours.
What can shipping software do? It can: give real rates, print labels in bulk, manage shipments, and it works with your eCommerce site. Here are the top choices you should look into.
Best Shipping Software For The Holidays
Merchant Maverick’s top-rated shipping software is a great place to start to find a shipping software that works for you. Here are a few of the top merchants we recommend:
- Shipping Easy: Shipping Easy is, you guessed it, easy to use and its pricing is excellent. That makes it one of our favorites at Merchant Maverick. A bonus of partnering with Shipping Easy is the partnership with USPS, and it’s an affordable option for low-volume merchants.
- ShipStation: ShipStation is one of the leaders in eCommerce shipping and it has integrations for UPS/FedEx/USPS.
- Ordoro: Ordoro has great dropshipping options where you can send packages directly from a supplier, which might be an amazing step for the holiday rush.
- Stamps.com: Stamps.com works directly with the United States Postal Service. This is a flat-rate service; you pay a flat monthly fee no matter how many packages you ship. With free pick-up from USPS at almost all residences and businesses, for companies looking for a great economical option, Stamps.com is a great choice.
How Shipping Software Can Help For The Holidays
Shipping software takes some of the labor of shipping and moves it into a streamlined process. Time is money and time is limited. If you have a dedicated person working on shipping, that’s amazing, but human error is bound to happen, and shipping software helps take some of the labor out of your shipping process.
Here are the top reasons why you should invest in shipping software:
- Saves you time
- Reduces chances for error
- Simplifies your shipping craziness
- Streamlines your shipping process
- Keeps shipping information in a single location
These shipping software companies are prepared for the holiday rush and they can help you, too. Anytime you can economically outsource, you should.
Is it worth the cost? Keep on reading!
How Much Does Shipping Software Cost?
Shipping software is an expense, and rates vary. However, many of theses shipping software companies have worked on shipping discounts and cheaper rates for their clients, and that makes the differences in price negligible vs. not using shipping software.
If you acquire help via a shipping app that is saving you up to 40% on shipping costs, it’s worth it to pay a monthly fee for that type of discount — that fee is absorbed by savings on shipping costs. When you look at the bottom-line, there is no way to go wrong with a shipping software company if your company ships enough products to benefit.
Read our post on the advantages of shipping software to learn if this option is right for you.
Best for business owners who are too busy to handle shipping themselves.
If shipping your products takes up a lot of time and a lot of space: outsource.
Outsourcing means your product ships directly to your customer through a warehouse, and by outsourcing your shipping, you can reach new markets, reduce all your shipping hassles, and cut shipping costs in one fell swoop. You start the process by looking at where you ship, how often you ship, and what those rates look like, and then you give a company permission to take charge of shipping your products for you. By outsourcing shipping, you are letting a third-party company manage and ship your inventory. Outsourcing shipping is really just the act of saying, “Let’s not hassle with this craziness!”
You might be a smaller merchant who is hoping to get to the level where you can outsource. The savings threshold is 25 orders a day. If you fulfill over 25 orders a day, you can economically benefit from outsourcing. (And we’re cheering for you to get to that level or above!)
One important thing to consider: Third-party shippers are better equipped for dealing with the holiday shipping madness, and it’s nice to hand a difficult task off to someone else. Read our complete post on outsourcing to learn if this option is right for you.
Best Options To Outsource Holiday Shipping
There are multiple options to outsource your holiday shipping. Finding a way to keep yourself as hands-off as possible is a small business owner’s dream. Here are a few options for holiday outsourcing:
- Amazon: Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) Multi-Channel Fulfillment is a great way to get your items to customers by using the Amazon platform. Using the Prime shipping feature is a huge benefit. It’s indisputable that Amazon is the leader in commerce in 2019; why not ride on their coattails?
- Fulfillrite: This company has same-day shipping and amazing cost plans. If your eCommerce site is looking to outsource, this is an option that works directly with your business.
- Shipware: Shipware says that through their program, they have saved $1,321,250 per year for small business merchants in shipping.
- FedEx Fulfillment: FedEx also has a fulfillment service to help businesses reach their customers. This is a great option if FedEx is a close and competitive selection for your business.
How Outsourcing Shipping Can Help For The Holidays
Outsourcing your shipping gives you the freedom to focus on all the other important business issues during the holidays. Timely customer service is still a huge part of consumer decisions. When choosing whether to outsource, ask yourself:
- How fast am I able to fulfill orders?
- What are my plans for returns/refunds?
- Can I respond to issue situations immediately?
If the answers to these questions are inducing a heart attack, stop right now. Outsourcing may be the cure for you.
How Much Does Outsourcing Shipping Cost?
To set up an outsourcing system for your company, you will need to find an outsourcing company and set up an account through them. There are initial set-up fees and fees based on use and inventory. Costs for outsourcing vary. The average industry cost for outsourcing shipping is $2 per order, with negotiated rates.
When To Outsource Your Holiday Shipping
If you are struggling with shipping your holiday orders, outsourcing is a no-brainer. Here is the best way to assess if you need to outsource. Close your eyes. Imagine that you don’t have to worry about fulfillment regulations, inventory space, the time spend on shipping, training staff to ship, or where you’ll keep holiday inventory. If this vision has you relaxing for the first time since the Back To School supplies hit the shelves, then you need to find a way to outsource.
Remember: in general, if you have more than 25 shipments a day, it may be cost-effective to outsource.
Holiday Shipping Schedule for 2019
As a small business, it’s important to fulfill your shipping promises. Knowing the shipping deadlines and understanding the holiday schedule will help you plan and set your own shipping costs and let customers know when to expect their items. We’ve all had one or two close-calls or misses with holiday packages. (Or those packages that came just a few days late…)
Deadlines listed below are up-to-date as of October 30, 2019.
USPS Holiday Shipping Deadlines
With USPS the last day to ship a package and have it arrive by Christmas is December 23. However, for cheaper shipping options, you’ll want to send your packages well before this date. See the deadlines below:
|USPS Shipping Deadlines|
|December 13||Last day to mail USPS Retail Ground service|
|December 19||Last day to mail First-Class Mail|
|December 20||Last day to mail First-class packages (up to 15.99 ounces)|
|December 21||Last day to mail Priority Mail|
|December 23||Last day to mail Priority Mail Express|
UPS Holiday Shipping Deadlines
With UPS, the last day to ship a package and have it arrive by Christmas is December 23. However, if you don’t want to be stuck paying for NextDay Air, you’ll want to use another one of UPS’s shipping services and get those packages in sooner. See the deadlines below:
|UPS Shipping Deadlines|
|December 13||Last day to mail Ground packages|
|December 19||Last day to mail UPS 3 Day Select®|
|December 20||Last day to ship via UPS 2nd Day Air®|
|December 21||Last day to mail UPS 2nd Day Air® with Saturday service|
|December 23||Last day to mail Priority Mail Express/UPS Next Day Air®|
FedEx Holiday Shipping Deadlines
With FedEx, the last day to ship a package and have it arrive by Christmas is December 25. But, if you want to save some money, and save a poor soul from having to work on Christmas day, you’ll want to send your packages before this date. See the deadlines below:
|FedEx Shipping Deadlines|
|December 16||Last day to mail FedEx Ground shipments|
|December 16||Last day to mail FedEx Home Delivery shipments|
|December 19||Last day to mail FedEx Express Saver shipments|
|December 20||Last day to mail FedEx 2Day and 2Day A.M. shipments|
|December 23||Last day to mail FedEx Standard Overnight, Priority Overnight and First Overnight shipments|
|December 25||Last day to mail FedEx SameDay shipments|
5 Tips To Make Holiday Shipping Easier For You & Your Customers
Shipping is crucial and people invest in your business because of what you promise to deliver. According to a recent study, 70% of customers navigate away from a shopping cart because of questions about shipping and shipping timing, so it is 100% true that shipping can make or break a sale. It’s gut-wrenching to get a customer to that final click and lose him/her/them with shipping speeds and prices.
With that in mind, how can you make holiday shipping easier for both you and your customers? It’s easy. Think about your own needs as a customer in today’s holiday market and try to meet those needs for your customers. Here are a few tips:
Tip #1: Keep Your Inventory In Stock
This should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: keep your inventory in stock during the holiday season. Nothing creates a headache like running out of an important item during the busiest time of the year. (Is this the appropriate place to incorporate an anecdote about the time I worked for a chain restaurant famous for ribs, and a man actually threw a pitcher of water at me one day when we ran out of those ribs? Stay in stock, people!)
Waiting for a shipment yourself will slow down the shipping process. Be ready to ship as close to receiving an order as you can. That’s what most customers expect.
Tip #2: Make Shipping Work For Your Business
Whether this involves utilizing free shipping options or putting effort into tracking packages, shipping needs to be an integral part of your business plan and not an afterthought. Instead of feeling like shipping is bringing you down, make a shipping plan.
Maybe your shipping plan involves utilizing all shipping options (USPS/UPS/FedEx) depending on price. Maybe you promise free ground shipping, knowing you can absorb the cost. Research your business and what your customers expect for holiday shipping options.
Tip #3: Provide Shipping Information In Your Meta-data
It’s the year 2019. We don’t quite have the fully automated-flying cars we were all promised, but we do have a robust internet that is an incredible resource for small businesses.
If customers are looking for your product and a way to ship fast or free, advertise and capitalize on your ability to provide that option. Lead people to your site or product by offering up transparency.
Tip #4: Make Shipping Information Clear For Everyone
Will you provide tracking? Do you have a ship-by date? When will packages arrive?
Transparency is the number one most important quality in a business.
If you advertise certain shipping speeds, be ready to make good on those claims. Customers and clients who go into a sale with clear expectations are often the most satisfied. Whether the shipping takes one day, three days, or 14 days, as long as the customer can decide and choose, they will be happy.
However, it should go without saying, if you make a promise, stick with it and keep customers informed.
Tip #5: Prepare For Returns
Lastly: No matter how you ship, it’s important to prepare for returns. It’s inevitable that someone will need or want to return a product.
Do you have a return policy? How will customers return incorrect or damaged items? These are critical components of the shipping process. Implementing an automated return process is integral. Also, customers may be looking for information on returns before making a purchase, so communicate your return policy in a clear, public location.
Get Started On Your Holiday Shipping
Holiday shipping is crucial. If you and a competitor are equal in all other things, you’d better make sure you have the better shipping options. How do you do that? By knowing your inventory inside and out, including how much it weighs; by checking prices between the carriers and deciding on a shipping plan to utilize during the holiday season; and by understanding whether outsourcing or using a shipping service is the right choice.
The holiday shipping rush starts now. People are already thinking about holiday purchases; make it easy for them to choose your business. Check out our other articles on shipping to make sure you are prepared for the holiday rush.