A Small Business Guide to Holiday Shipping for 2019 Retailers


The holiday season is in full swing, which for most of you means that it’s the busiest time of the year. Increasingly, this busy period is filled with a surge of traffic to your site instead of simply a surge through your brick and mortar doors.

The rise of eCommerce sales around the holidays is a great thing for small businesses, allowing you to compete in markets across the world instead of just around your neighborhood. But it doesn’t come without its challenges.

Arguably the biggest hurdle for retailers to clear is the shipping problem. For a number of reasons, consumers have come to expect remarkably fast and free shipping. It’s not enough to just be able to deliver the product – it needs to be done quickly and cheaply. So let’s dive into this guide to holiday shipping for small business retailers. With a basic plan in place, you’ll be ready to have a successful next month at your store.

Make Your Holiday Shipping Easier

Shipping is perhaps the most important logistical item to consider during your eCommerce holiday planning. The vast majority of customers heavily weigh shipping options and costs into their final decision.

Limit Abandoned Carts

Costly shipping is the number one reason for abandoned carts. In fact, in an abandoned cart survey, over 60% of shoppers say that high shipping costs have been the primary factor for leaving a cart without making the final purchase.

This stat is remarkably frustrating for any retailer. In such a competitive environment, the hardest part of making a sale is getting the shopper through your doors/onto your website and then deciding to make a purchase. Losing sales at the 11th hour must be prevented for a successful holiday season.

Get Your Inventory Right

Optimize your inventory levels with great inventory management software. Proper inventory management will make sure that your shelves are always stocked but your storage is never overflowing. Of course, it’s important that your shoppers always have access to your products. But it’s also critical that you don’t order too much. Overstocking leads to cramped spaces, poor organization, and diminished cash flow.

Without the right amount of inventory levels, your eCommerce shipping will suffer, too. Most holiday shoppers don’t have time to wait more than a few days for delivery. No matter what we tell ourselves each year, most of us put off holiday shopping for far too long. So online retailers can’t afford to wait to receive the product before shipping it to the buyer. This delay will lose you business.

Be Transparent with Shipping Times and Costs

If you offer fast and/or free shipping, advertise it on your website, in your meta description, and on product pages. It’s as much a selling point as expensive or slow shipping is a buzz kill.

Likewise, many small businesses can’t offer free shipping. And it’s also important to disclose this! Shoppers would rather know up front than be surprised at the end of the checkout process that they need to pay an additional fee. If possible, use this as an opportunity to add some other incentives to make the purchase. Many retailers offer free shipping for orders over a certain amount or discount codes for first-time orders or at certain benchmarks.

Provide tracking, arrival dates, and other forms of transparency. No matter how long your shipping takes, it’s important to let your shoppers know exactly how long it will take. And make sure that you can deliver on any promises (pun sorta intended). Unfulfilled delivery promises during the holidays is one of the fastest ways to lose customers.

Set a Fair Product Return Policy

Set a return policy beforehand. Return are inevitable so it’s important to be ready for them. Make your return policy fair and explicitly state it at checkout and in confirmation emails. Make sure you’re accounting for all possible scenarios so there’s no hesitation in how you’ll handle them.

Different Holiday Shipping Options for Your SMB

Small businesses have a variety of shipping options available to them, so it’s worth spending some time finding the cheapest and most efficient solution for your business needs. And again, the holiday season is the most important time of year to figure this out. Optimizing your retail shipping strategy can save you thousands in just this month alone.

USPS Holiday Shipping for Businesses

The United States Postal Service is still a popular option for many shipping solutions. It still competes with private companies on shipping times and prices and it offers free pick-up services across much of the United States. USPS is also a great option for oddly proportioned products, like small and heavy or large and light objects.

For businesses that qualify for commercial shipping, USPS will send a sales representative to your store to help devise a plan.

The service also comes with a variety of options for business shipping:

  • Retail Ground – The shipping time depends on how far the package needs to go, but ranges from 2-8 days. Packages must not exceed 70 lbs. and cost is based on weight, size, and destination.
  • First-Class – First-class is one of the faster options, typically delivered between 1-3 days, but can only be used with small packages less than 13 oz.
  • Priority – A flat-rate service, priority mail charges a single rate but must be under 70 lbs. If you ship many similar packages in a certain area, priority mail may be the cheapest option. Deliveries take 1-3 days.
  • Priority Express – Packages can be picked-up for free at your home and office and have guaranteed delivery overnight. This also includes insurance and a money-back guarantee. Rates again vary based on weight, size, and destination.
  • Media – For small items, like books, records, DVDs, or similar items, media mail is highly economical. Delivery, however, takes 2-10 days.

More detailed pricing options can be found on the USPS website if you want to learn more. Overall, businesses agree that the USPS is a great cheaper option. It delivers anywhere in the country, offers free package pick-up, and delivers on Saturdays at no extra cost. Service might, however, be more time-consuming since it often has long lines and fewer staff members.

Holiday Shipping with UPS

UPS is known for being the most reliable and easy-to-use shipping service for businesses. Though it’s the most expensive, there are no surcharges or price changes during the holiday season.

  • Ground – This is the cheapest option with package prices measured by weight, size, and destination. Delivery times vary 1-5 days.
  • 3-Day Select – Packages will always be delivered by the end of the third business day from the order being placed.
  • 2nd Day Air – More expensive than the option above, this promises delivery by the end of the second business day, as the name suggests.
  • Next Day Air – Hopefully, you’ve figured this out at this point.
  • Express Critical – For absolute emergencies, this option may involve a charter plane or personal courier. It is best used as a real last resort.

Pricing for UPS starts at $11.23, so it’s markedly pricier than USPS. But it comes with the best tracking and is remarkably dependable. If your business has higher margins on products, UPS might be well worth the extra amount. To get an idea of how much your average package would cost, check out their delivery calculator.

FedEx Business Shipping Options

The other most popular private option, FedEx offers a similar service to UPS. Unlike UPS,  they do deliver on Saturday, but they don’t have as many stores or as wide of a delivery range.

  • Ground – Arriving 1-7 business days, ground shipping the cheapest and most basic option. Saturday delivery is not available.
  • Flat-Rate – They have a variety of flat-rate options that they will ship if you can fit.
  • Express Saver – Faster guaranteed delivery, Express delivers in 1-3 business days.
  • 2Day Air – Same as UPS.
  • Standard Overnight – Again, prices are based on size, weight, and destination, and will be delivered the next day.
  • Priority Overnight – A unique option, this guarantees delivery by mid-morning of the next business day.

Ground pricing starts at $7.85, a bit lower than UPS, but FedEx does have holiday peak season fees that start at $4.20. They also charge more for certain remote deliveries. Play around with different rates to see if it’s the best fit.

Software for Shipping During the Holidays

For bigger operations, it might be worth finding shipping software to make the process easier. Shipping software can make your business a whole lot more efficient:

  • Integrates with your eCommerce platform
  • Finds the best rates
  • Prints shipping labels in bulk
  • Manages shipments
  • Automates order delivery notifications

Streamlining the process saves businesses time during the busiest periods of the year. It also improves accuracy, leaving you with fewer reasons to have disgruntled customers. Shipping software keeps all product information and status levels in one location, making it easier to look things up and track particular orders.

Shipping software will come with a price tag, of course. But if it saves you time and costs on shipping, it may well be worth it.

Outsourced Shipping Options

eCommerce retailers can also outsource shipping through third-party management services. Outsourcing is a good option with businesses that ship more than they can handle on their own but can’t hire a full-time shipping person or team. These services allow you to ship a product directly from a warehouse, so you can cut time, hassle, and costs.

At the end of the day, outsourced shipping takes care of the holiday stress of shipping packages for you.

Holiday Shipping Deadlines for Small Businesses

It’s around the corner but it’s not too late to get packages out at the cheapest rates that USPS, UPS, and FedEx offer. It’s important to be ready and to let your customers know when they need to place an order to get timely deliveries.

Shipping Deadlines with USPS

USPS has some last-minute options, but it’s still important to get packages sent out early to save money. The ground service deadline for domestic shipping is December 14, 2019.

Meanwhile, international shipping deadlines start earlier, but express options go up until December 18th or 19th for any destination.

Shipping Deadlines with UPS

You can ship domestic packages up until December 23 with UPS to arrive by Christmas day. But again, it’s certainly more economical to send orders out earlier. If shoppers order last-minute, pass some of the financial responsibility onto the customer with shipping surcharges. Like USPS, the deadline for the cheapest ground option is December 13 for delivery by December 24.

  • December 13 – Ground shipping
  • December 16 – Normal air shipping
  • December 19 – UPS 3 Day Select deadline
  • December 20 – 2nd Day Air
  • December 21 – 2nd Day Air with Saturday service
  • December 23 – Next Day Air

UPS does have peak pricing for most services throughout the holiday season. If you ship large packages this fee may make other options much cheaper.

Shipping Deadlines with FedEx

FedEx has a later shipping deadline for ground packages. Standard domestic ground delivery has a deadline of Monday, December 16, 2019. For international options, contact FedEx directly to get rates and deadlines.

A Guide to Holiday Shipping with KORONA POS

While KORONA POS is a point of sale solution rather than a shipping service, the software integrates with several shipping solutions and customer relationship management tools that help keep your operations streamlined and running efficiently. To learn more, reach out to use below. We’ll even set up a free demo, so you can see exactly how it will all work for your business.

About the Author

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Michael Chalberg

Michael has long focused his writing on the world of retail and small businesses. He''s been a part of the KORONA POS team since 2018 and loves helping entrepreneurs find ways to adapt and succeed. In his spare time, you'll likely find him hiking somewhere in the Southwest.

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