Holiday shopping online? Follow 4 tips to make sure your gifts arrive on time

Shop strategically to make sure the gifts you buy online get to their destinations on time.


Planning on doing more of your holiday shopping online this year? You're not alone. The National Retail Federation expects American nonstore sales to range between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion this holiday season, a 20% to 30% increase from last year's levels.

If you're the proactive sort who does all of your gift shopping on Black Friday and during Cyber Week, congratulations – you can sit back, relax, and enjoy a virtual tour of the North Pole at your leisure. But if your holiday shopping style is a little more ad hoc, you'll need to shop strategically to make sure the gifts you buy online get to their destinations on time.

Look for guaranteed delivery dates

Retailers and shippers will face a twofold struggle to get you your stuff on time this year, says Casey Runyan, managing editor of Brad's Deals. "Because more people than ever are ordering online this year, we could see shipping delays," she says. "The other thing to take into account is supply chain and inventory issues related to the pandemic."

But even amid concerns over potential delays, retailers are carrying on as though it's business as usual, says Julie Ramhold, a senior staff writer at DealNews. "Retailers are quoting the same mid-December 'cutoffs' that you'd see in a normal year," she says.

Shippers are on the same page. FedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service all say gifts sent via ground shipping by December 15 will arrive by Christmas Day. Retailers who partner with Free Shipping Day, including Bath & Body Works, Crate & Barrel, and Kohl's, offer free shipping to customers who order on December 14, with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.

Start early, and don't assume you'll get 2-day shipping

You won't necessarily have to get your orders in earlier to get your stuff on time this year, but shopping sooner is a smart move, since if you procrastinate, you're likely exposing yourself to problems that could arise, says Runyan. "People need to be aware that the longer they wait, the more their options are going to dwindle."

Getting your orders in ASAP at major online retailers gives you the best chance of getting your gifts under the tree in time, since those stores generally have deals with the likes of FedEx and UPS and get preferential treatment, says Ramhold. "Smaller or independent stores are much likelier to see delays," she says.

But even at the big guys, some cracks have started to emerge, says Runyan. "Amazon third-party sellers have been reporting that Amazon is prioritizing shipping their inventory over third-party seller inventory," she says. "You're going to see much more 'Free Delivery for Prime Members'  but not 2-day Prime shipping on a lot of items as the holidays approach. Customers shouldn't take 2-day shipping for granted."

People need to be aware that the longer they wait, the more their options are going to dwindle.
Casey Runyan
Managing editor, Brad's Deals

Consider curbside pickup

If it gets close to the date and you still haven't gotten something for everyone on your list, consider shopping online and opting for in-store or curbside pickup, says Ramhold. "If you're near a mall, you're actually in a pretty good position," she says. "Some stores, such as Belk, are saying, 'If you pick this up in-store, you'll save an extra 10%.'"

And watch out for scams

If you spot a last-minute online deal on a hot-ticket item that seems too good to be true, it probably is, says Runyan. "We are seeing so many online scams designed to trick people," she says. "You'll see a suspiciously low price, and it's not a real site. They're just looking to get your info and charge your credit card."

Runyan recommends poking around any site that raises red flags. Be on the lookout for product categories that don't make sense or low-quality images. "Prestige" kitchen items such as KitchenAid stand mixers, Instant Pots, and air fryers are among the most commonly listed items on scam sites, she says. "We've really seen these ramp up during the pandemic."

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