Small BusinessCommerceShipping

Holiday shipping 101

If you run a small business, you know all about how important the holidays are to your bottom line. That also means you likely understand that your shipping process can have an outsized impact on whether customers think your business is naughty or nice.

By leveraging shipping best practices along with tools from PayPal to help streamline operations, you may be better prepared to get your packages out on time, meet shopper expectations, and build customer relationships that last well beyond the season.

Here's what you need to know to set your business up for holiday shipping success.

Remember holiday shipping deadlines and dates

Few things are more disappointing than a package that doesn’t arrive on time. It’s crucial to understand when you need your packages out the door. Look at each shipping carrier’s schedule for recommended timelines to have a package arrive by key holiday dates.

Not only can this help you meet customer expectations, but you can also use this information to drive more sales. For instance, use the Christmas shipping deadline as an opportunity to send a reminder email or SMS to customers that the last day to mail packages is around the corner. By offering guaranteed Christmas delivery, you may be able to spur customers to complete their orders sooner.

Check out holiday shipping deadlines for each major carrier below. While some have not yet released this year’s dates, best practice is to use last year’s as a benchmark.

Establish holiday shipping expectations

Different customers will have different expectations when it comes to delivery timelines. Make sure you clearly state your shipping practices, prices, and options to ensure there are no unexpected hiccups. This lets customers factor in delivery dates when determining whether or not to take advantage of a free shipping promotion or if they should pay extra for expedited delivery.

Another holiday shipping best practice is to clearly state if you offer the following services:

  • Shipping insurance
  • Next-day shipping
  • Free shipping for returns

Practice your process

The holiday sales season is like the championship game for many small businesses. Just like no team would test out a new quarterback in the Super Bowl, the last thing you want to do is try a new shipping process the week before Christmas.

Use the months leading up to Black Friday to perfect your shipping process, so you're ready to go once the holiday season kicks off. An efficient process includes:

  • Determining where you'll find extra space to prepare packages
  • Setting up accounts with USPS, UPS, and FedEx if necessary to help manage and track shipments
  • Dedicating space to store packages as they wait for pickup by USPS, FedEx, or UPS
  • Hiring and training extra staff to handle the additional volume
  • Using payment information captured through PayPal to automatically purchase and print shipping labels

Make sure you have enough packaging

There's nothing worse than having a record day of sales, only to discover that you have no way to get all those orders out the door. To avoid being caught short, spend the weeks before the holiday season stocking up on holiday packaging materials like tape, boxes, labels, protective wrap, and invoice slips.

Keep in mind that this is the time of year when your customers expect shipping options like gift wrapping or themed shipping boxes. If you don't normally offer those options, consider dedicating space in your shipping department where you can wrap presents for an extra fee. Not only will this help you improve the customer experience, but it can be an easy way to drive extra revenue.

Build trust with tracking information

One of the top questions customers have about their online order: “Where is it?” That's why no list of holiday shipping tips is complete without the reminder to share package tracking codes with customers.

By providing tracking information with every order, you can keep customers in the loop while reducing the number of inquiries from customers who worry their package is lost. These days, online tracking is included at no charge by USPS, UPS, and FedEx. If the total sale is $750 or more, add signature confirmation to confirm your customer received their order — the nominal expense is well worth it, plus it's a PayPal requirement for Seller Protection (limits apply).

Share holiday return policies

While the hope is that everyone loves your products, the reality is customers will sometimes want to return their order to get a different size, color, or simply because it's not quite what they thought it would be.

So before customers complete their purchase, make sure you clearly state your holiday return policy, including the cost to return items. Depending on your business and products, you may consider offering free returns as a way to give customers more confidence when placing an order.

Because returns can be costly, here are a few ways to reduce your return volume:

  • Take high-quality pictures that show the product from every angle
  • Add videos that show your product in action
  • Provide a detailed description along with dimensions of the product so customers know exactly what they're getting
  • If appropriate, add a size guide that helps people determine how your product will fit
  • Share customer reviews so shoppers can know what to expect based on the experiences of other users
  • Ensure your packaging protects the item so it isn't damaged in transit

Holiday shipping FAQ

If you have holiday shipping questions, the US Postal Service likely has the answer. The USPS FAQ portal offers helpful information to help you deliver a winning customer experience. Below are answers to key questions small business owners may need to know to plan for holiday shipping:

  • Are shipping rates higher during the holidays? Rates may temporarily increase during the holidays. For example, for the 2022 holiday season, the USPS temporarily raised its rates from October 2, 2022, through January 22, 2023.
  • Is shipping slower during the holidays? Extra demand means shipping can be slower in December. Check the mailing deadline page to ensure timely delivery.
  • Does shipping still move on weekends? USPS delivers and picks up packages on Saturdays. Sunday and holiday delivery may also be available in some markets for an additional fee. Check your local USPS location to confirm.
  • Is Saturday a business day for shipping? Packages sent using Priority Mail that guaranteed delivery within two business days typically count Saturday as a business day.
  • What is the most affordable way to ship during the holiday? USPS Retail Ground is often the most affordable solution, although it can take longer than other methods. Compare shipping rates and times.

Learn more how to get manage your shipping with PayPal.

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