The U.S. Postal Service is expecting expects to deliver a total of approximately 15.5 billion cards, letters and packages during the 2015 holiday season, including 600 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve alone -- an increase of 10.5% over last year. Its busiest day of the year was Monday, December 14, but it doesn't take chances far beyond that. UPS, meanwhile, anticipates that it will process at least 630 million packages this year, an increase of 10% over last year. Lastly, FedEx says that, between Black Friday and Christmas, it expects to handle 317 million packages, up 12.4% over last year.
None of them have reached their final shipping deadlines, either. Consider that Amazon Prime customers have until Decemer 22 to ship presents through the retailer's two-day shipping in time for Christmas. Meanwhile, Amazon offers one-day shipping as late as December 23 , while markets that allow it will have access to same-day shipping on December 24. Why? Because the U.S. Postal Service still guarantees Priority Flat-Rate packages in time for Christmas if you send them December 21. However, you can wait to send items Priority Mail Express until the December 23 deadline, which just might get it there by Christmas Eve, but should ship on Christmas Day.
UPS has some of the latest Christmas delivery deadlines out the. A 2nd Day Air package can still make it in time for Christmas if it's out by December 22. Next Day Air delivery is an option until December 23 while the incredibly costly “express critical” delivery typically reserved for far more urgent needs assures Christmas delivery as late as Christmas Eve. Even FedEx can sneak packages in via Express Saver (cutoff today), FedEx 2Day (December 22) or any of its overnight options (December 23). Those willing to pay the cost of critical FedEx Same Day City service -- and who are shipping and delivering within 25 miles of the center of one of the dozen cities where that service is available -- can send items on Christmas Day.
However, this has all gone terribly wrong before. In 2013, about a third of last-minute packages didn't arrive in time for Christmas. Amazon was forced to offer refunds and gift cards in an attempt to salvage ruined Christmases.
Even when the package makes it to the doorstep, that doesn't mean it arrives safely. A survey from InsuranceQuotes.com found that 23 million U.S. consumers have had packages stolen from their doorsteps during the holiday season. When packages do make it into their intended recipient's hands, half of U.S. consumers surveyed by Consumer Reports last year say at least one package they received during the holiday season showed up damaged.
With help from Consumer Reports and a few other consumer-friendly sources, we offer the following advice to get your gift delivered on-time, into your hands and in its original, unpulverized condition:
Pack it yourself:Keep in mind that the delivery services we mentioned above specialize in delivery and not necessarily in winning the school drop-an-egg-without-breaking-it contest. We recently had a porcelain family heirloom shipped to us in a parcel packed by the delivery firm itself. Two small pieces of foam and half a spool of packing paper, unsurprisingly, didn't stop that heirloom from sinking to the bottom of the box, jostling around and, eventually, shattering into a constellation of pieces that proved too much for Liquid Nails to piece together.
Consumer Reports suggests that, if protecting your item is of the utmost importance, start with a new corrugated cardboard box and pack it with as much filler as possible. UPS recommends that each item be surrounded by at least two inches of cushioning placed at least two inches from the walls of the box to avoid product-against-product damage and protect against shock and vibration.
And, please, unless your item has sharp corners (which should be triple wrapped and taped), spring for the Bubble Wrap. In extreme temperatures, polystyrene peanuts and tightly crumpled paper -- as well as additional pieces of corrugated cardboard -- tend to fare better. Throw a duplicate mailing labels inside, just in case the package gets lost, and apply reinforced packing tape across the flaps and seams on top and bottom in an “H” shape. If you can shake the box and not hear or feel your item move, you've done a great job.
UPS and FedEx shipments provide automatic declared-value coverage of up to $100. Similar coverage at the USPS applies only to Express Mail. From there, both UPS and FedEx charge $0.90 per $100 for shipments valued in excess of $100, with a $2.70 minimum payment. USPS, meanwhile, charges $2.20 to insure items up to $50 in value, $2.75 for items up to $100, $3.50 for items up to $200, $4.60 for items up to $300, $5.80 for articles up to $500 and $9.45 for any item up to $600. Any item between $600.01 and $5,000 costs $9.45, plus $1.30 per $100 or fraction thereof over $600, because USPS just has to do this in the most convoluted way possible.
Just realize that none of the above insurance necessarily means you get to breathe easy. If your package shows up battered, beaten and broken, you're still going to have to file a claim, provide an invoice or receipt, get tracking and delivery information and turn in photos of the damage. Then, maybe, you'll get at least some of the value of your newly destroyed item back.
Chose your shipper wisely
There isn't an oversight committee that makes sure delivery services are playing nicely with your packages, which is why the best data we have comes from a Popular Mechanics experiment conducted five years ago.
The publication took packages, stuffed them with a three-axis accelerometer, thermometer and a data logger to measure movement, g-force, temperature, orientation and other factors. If the packages they shipped were flipped, jostled, flung, overheated or frozen, the equipment registered the jostle.
What they found were some fairly distinct differences. The Postal Service flipped packages 12.5 times during a three-day trip. FedEx was somewhat better with seven flips per trip, but UPS only needed to move packages an average of four times during their journey.
However, UPS gets much rougher with packages when they depart or arrive. The packages registered an average of two acceleration spikes of 6 g's or greater per trip. That's the equivalent of dropping it 2.5 feet each time it's loaded on and each time it comes off the truck. FedEx is similarly rough, tossing packages 3.1 times per trip. The USPS is only relatively more gentle, keeping the drops to 0.5 for each package
Finally, if your present is sensitive to temperature, FedEx will take the best care of it. FedEx kept the average temperature swing for packages at 26.1 degrees, while climates in UPS trucks and facilities varied by 29.8 degrees and USPS went through hot and cold flashes that varied by 32 degrees.
That said, all three shipping companies had one very important feature in common: If they received packages labeled “Fragile” or “This Side Up,” they just treated them even more roughly. You might as well just stick Post-It notes to your package with “kick me” written on them.
Find a safe spot for your stuff
If you're worried about having packages stolen or have had them stolen before, there are options available to you.
Consumer Reports notes that U.S. Postal Service customers can arrange to have certain deliveries left at a back or side door, on the porch, in the garage or with a neighbor. FedEx and UPS also will make deliveries or redeliveries (if the first attempt was unsuccessful) to specific locations on your property, like your delivery lockbox.
FedEx also lets you choose a date-and-time combination that fits your schedule, while UPS offers a service called My Choice that gives customers advance notice of delivery times, allowing them to reroute or reschedule deliveries for a future date and to activate a vacation setting to have packages held and delivered on their return. UPS’s Access Point also directs packages to designated local businesses in more than 4,400 locations across the country, where customers can retrieve them by showing a government ID. Retailers would also like to remind you that you can schedule store pickups of items purchased online or, in Amazon's case, have your item delivered to a locker at a local business.
Don't wait this long
The Post Office's busiest day was December 14. It stands to reason that shipping something before then just might provide your best chance of having it arrive in time for Christmas.
We understand that there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that put you in a position where you're shipping Christmas presents on the same week as Christmas, but procrastination isn't a mitigating circumstance. A good rule of thumb is that, if you're sending an item after Free Shipping Day on December 18, you're doing it wrong. Always go for the free shipping, and always give yourself enough time to factor in a mishap. Let Santa worry about delivering presents on Christmas Eve: you save yourself a lot of hassle when you're done Christmas shopping well before the sleigh lands.