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December 14, 2021

Stay Off Shoppers’ Naughty Lists: 2021 Holiday Shipping Deadlines

Shopper in a holiday sweater receiving their packages on timeWhen the pandemic first started to affect the supply chain, everyone assumed that the issues would be quickly addressed and everything would go back to normal. But many failed to truly understand what caused the issues at their core or the ripple effect that was set into motion.

By putting simultaneous pressure on every stage of the supply chain on a global scale, COVID-19 managed to expose every weakness all at once — and with surgical precision. The worldwide eCommerce industry and all that it encompasses went from being a prime example of the just-in-time model running like a well-oiled machine to a masterclass in the meaning of Murphy's Law near-instantaneously.

As the holiday season approaches, the original cracks in the supply chain that never fully healed continue to grow due to increased volume, as well as labor and supply shortages. The industry is also still dealing with shipping delays caused by the blocked canal and not having enough workers to overcome the backlogs. This caused a long line of cargo ships to form at ports worldwide.   

As supply chain issues continue to snowball, eCommerce businesses are worrying about its effects on their ability to deliver people's gifts on time. Luckily, the big three carriers, USPS, UPS, and FedEx, have all released their 2021 holiday shipping deadlines. We'll break down the 2021 holiday shipping deadline for each carrier's individual services, so you know exactly how much time you have, along with some factors to keep in mind and tips for combating Murphy's Law.

USPS 2021 Holiday Shipping Deadline Breakdown

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has been doing its best to keep up with shipping demand despite the enormous pressure being placed on it, both externally from the pandemic and internally as a result of some ongoing issues it has been dealing with for a while. To try to mitigate possible delays from the increased volume and supply chain bottlenecks, they've ramped up sorting capabilities and extended delivery windows.

As part of their heavily criticized 10-year plan, USPS is permanently increasing delivery times for first-class mail to three to five business days, a two-day extension from the previous one to three business days. There will also be temporary pricing increases for domestic packages lasting until December 26th.

Domestic Shipping to the US Contiguous 48

They've also listed their recommended 2021 holiday shipping deadline for each service if you want your item to arrive by December 25th. The following deadlines are for the continental/contiguous US AKA the "lower 48" only; this doesn't apply to Alaska, Hawaii, and US territories like Puerto Rico. 

USPS Retail Ground™: They recommend shipping no later than Wednesday, December 15th.

First Class Mail®: The last day to mail first-class packages, which is limited to packages weighing 15.99 ounces or less, is Friday, December 17th.

Priority Mail®: Deadlines for Priority Mail are Saturday, December 18th.

Priority Mail Express®: If you use Priority Mail Express, you have until Thursday, December 23rd, to put items in the mail.

US Shipments to the Non-Contiguous States

The USPS website also lists their 2021 holiday shipping deadline for each service when shipping to Alaska and Hawaii. 


USPS Retail Ground™: Ground packages going to Alaska must be shipped by December 2nd.

First Class Mail®: First-class packages (which have a 15.99-ounce limit) have to be in the mail by December 18th.

Priority Mail®: Priority Mail also has a deadline of December 18th.

Priority Mail Express®: Packages sent to Alaska by Priority Mail Express can be sent as late as December 21st.


USPS Retail Ground™: Ground services aren't applicable to Hawaii shipments.

First Class Mail®: First-class packages to Hawaii (15.99-ounce limit) should be mailed by December 17th.

Priority Mail®: Priority Mail for Hawaii also has a deadline of December 17th.

Priority Mail Express®: Packages going to Hawaii by Priority Mail Express can be sent as late as December 21st.

UPS 2021 Holiday Shipping Deadline Breakdown

Business owner printing shipping labels to meet 2021 holiday shipping deadlinesTo prepare for the holidays and offset delays, UPS has:

  • Added more aircraft
  • Increased their level of automation,
  • Taken other steps to increase their speed and capacity

These measures have increased their processing capabilities by 130,000 packages every hour compared to last year.

When the pandemic began, they suspended their shipping guarantees. To date, they haven't reinstated them. But they did make guarantees available for many next-day services again in April 2021. On Monday, October 18th, they extended their commitment times for Next Day Air from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. until further notice.   

Domestic Shipping to the US

UPS released a year-end schedule complete with their 2021 holiday shipping deadlines to get orders by December 24th.

UPS Ground®: They didn't give specific dates for their ground services and instead directed people to check for specifics.  

UPS 3 Day Select®: Their recommendation is to send packages by Tuesday, December 21st, when using 3 Day Select.

UPS 2nd Day Air® Services: Wednesday, December 22nd, is the cutoff for 2nd Day Air.  

Next Day Air® Services: Next-day shipping, as expected, requires shipping no later than Thursday, December 23rd, to get gifts by the 24th.

FedEx 2021 Holiday Shipping Deadline Breakdown

FedEx is trying to hire around 90,000 additional employees ahead of the holidays to help with added order volumes. However, the labor shortage is making that difficult. Their 2021 holiday shipping deadline schedule is on par with the others, though. So they don't seem to be anticipating too much of a problem.

Domestic Shipping to the US

The FedEx 2021 holiday shipping deadline schedule lists many additional services. However, these are the most popular:

FedEx SmartPost®: The cutoff for SmartPost is Thursday, December 9th, though there are some exceptions.

FedEx Ground®: Ground shipments have a Wednesday, December 15th, deadline.

Home Delivery®: Wednesday, December 15th, is also their deadline for FedEx home delivery.

Express Saver®: Express Saver packages must be in the mail by Tuesday, December 21st.

2Day® Services: Predictably, Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021, is the last day for 2Day shipments to arrive before the holiday.

Overnight® Services: Similarly, overnight shipments have to be in by Thursday, December 23rd.

Exercising Caution: Get a Holly Jolly Head Start

The existing issues in the supply chain are causing huge problems. In an effort to prevent empty shelves, many stores are ordering anticipated restocks so they'll have them sooner, causing further issues. As issues pile up, they create even more issues. It's hard to anticipate the exact effect this all will have on eCommerce retailers; their individual products and suppliers’ locations will play a role.

Also, the 2020 delays were predicted to be catastrophic. But the actual outcome was on-time delivery percentages in the 90s. So no matter how hard we try, there are factors we can't predict. What we can do, however, is prepare. There are some things that likely will be predictable. Planning for the worst but hoping for the best is usually a smart strategy.  

FedEx and UPS have historically suspended guarantees when shipping volumes spike around the holidays, and this year likely won't be the exception. No matter how confident they seem, assume major delays and try to encourage early shopping. Also, set your own shipping deadlines. Clearly post the last day you feel confident buyers can purchase and expect packages to show up in time for the holiday.

Keep in mind that the USPS is undergoing big changes and attempting to meet the government's expectation of profitability and their opposing expectations for fast service. Cutting costs often means cutting corners, and delivery times could easily be delayed enough to exceed even their two-day extension.

Make sure that you account for this. Remember that USPS often handles last-mile delivery for the others, so you can't just avoid the issue by using a different carrier. Keep a good amount of buffer time between what all carriers have listed as their deadline for on-time delivery and the last day you tell customers to expect holiday packages.   

Get Ready to Sleigh the Season

Even though you can't account for everything that could go wrong, anticipate what you can. Have extra customer service reps available in case of issues. Also, try to give the best estimates and tracking data available to avoid customers calling over and over for updates. Make customers aware of the shipping delays and widespread issues to temper their expectations. As long as you do that and keep them updated, you should get through the holiday season intact.

If you have questions or want our help with your holiday shipping, contact us any time, and we'll be there with jingle bells on!  

About Eniture Technology

Eniture Technology specializes in helping e-Commerce merchants grow by providing useful information, digital marketing services, off-the-shelf apps that solve common problems, and custom programming services. Please contact us if you need help growing your online business or implementing the concepts presented in this blog post.

Interested in learning more? Check out our free guide, A Beginner's Guide To E-Commerce Shipping and subscribe to our blog!

A Beginner's Guide To E-Commerce Shipping


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