We’ve all been seeing it on the news the past few days: An online shopper exclaims: “I can’t believe I ordered my gift on December 16th and it didn’t arrive in time for Christmas!” Then either the news reporter or other observers weigh in with commentary about their astonishment over how someone can order SO EARLY and still not get the item in time.

In our 7 years in the Alphabet Art business, we have learned to a few lessons about Holiday Shipping. As most of what we ship is personalized using our Alphabet Art to create a variety of Letter Art works and custom stationary, we need to take into account production as well as where our Alphabet Art products are being shipped.

This article is written with the hopes of shedding some light on the realities of receiving actual tangible products in today’s digital world. We have included a list of 8 holiday shipping truths that may adjust your approach to holiday online gift giving by at least a couple of days.

1. Real humans are actually processing real items. Unless you plan on ordering an e-book, digital music, or e-card, real people will have to touch, process, package, ship, carry, and handle a real item. There are no genies in bottles who can blink items from location to location, and no magic scanners to vaporize the item in one location and digitally bleep it somewhere else.

2. Look at an actual calendar before you decide what “plenty of time” means. Let’s use the example of the online shopper above. On the calendar you can see that if she ordered on the afternoon of December 16th, and the retailer got her order out ASAP on December 17th, that leaves 4 business days to travel by standard ground shipping to be loaded on a local vehicle for delivery on Christmas Eve Day. That’s IF the retailer didn’t have a backlog and IF the ground carrier had no delivery exceptions. Let’s face it, December 16th is the online equivalent of last minute shopping.

Holiday Delivery Example Calendar

Holiday Delivery Example Calendar

3. Where you live and where the retailer ships from makes a difference. We happen to ship from Arizona, so here is the Fed Ex Ground chart we use. So looking at this chart you can see it gets trickier for us to get products out to New England states the closer it gets to Christmas. Many big retailers have regional distribution centers so that no one is more than 3 business days away. But bear in mind smaller businesses don’t have the luxury of multiple distribution points.

FedEx Ground Chart from Arizona

FedEx Ground Chart from Arizona

4. Retailers eliminate the usual “buffer zone” when making shipping promises for Christmas. When checking out on our website, we list estimated delivery dates. For Standard Shipping, this is often padded by a day or two to account for the infrequent but inevitable mishap. As it gets closer to Christmas Day, retailers can no longer include this padding. So when you see “Receive by Christmas,” you should mentally add “IF everyone does exactly what they’re supposed to and there are no weather delays.”

5. There are lots of temporary workers helping out this time of year. From the time you hit the “Submit Order” button to the time your gift arrives, many newly trained employees will be involved in your transaction. Online retailers hire and train extra help for the busy holiday rush, and sometimes there’s a learning curve. Parcel delivery services like FedEx, UPS, and USPS have a huge influx of temporary help working alongside their exhausted regular drivers.

6. Oh, and there’s the weather. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about December here. In Southern Arizona we generally don’t have to worry about snow flurries, but we know that the majority of our packages will have to be driven or flown through some nasty weather. Even if the weather is calm and clear where you are, plan on your package experiencing a weather delay just to be safe.

7. Not all products are pick and ship. If you ordered a product with a custom feature, account for the extra time it takes the retailer to customize your gift. Here at Letter Perspectives, that’s all we do—personalized Alphabet Art gifts! So if an order comes in at 3:30 pm and our FedEx driver picks up at 3:45 pm, we won’t be able to get that order made and out the door till the next day.

8. Sometimes things just don’t go as they should. ”What?” You may say, “Things don’t always go according to plan?”  No, of course everyone is aware of this truth; we just need to be reminded of it at the holidays.

So here’s what we have: A gift is ordered 1 week prior to its drop-dead delivery date. The order comes in the late afternoon to an excited retailer. The retailer has new trainees on hand to process that order.  The item is made, packed, handled, and labeled mainly by people who are new to the job, but they’ve been trained well. This gift is now picked up by temporary help and travels across the country in icy/snowy/blizzard conditions. The drop-dead delivery date happens to be December 24th, not only a very congested traffic day, but also a day when many places are closed early. The package is on an over-stuffed vehicle to be delivered by someone who has been working 15 hours per day, or someone who recently was trained to deliver packages, or both. Amazingly, this happens every year and most gifts do arrive on time. So maybe next year, the news story will be “I can’t believe I ordered my gift on December 16th and it actually arrived in time for Christmas!”  Hey, we online retailers can dream…

When we heard of all the delivery delays out there this year, we were so thankful that our customers were not affected. We take great care here at Letter Perspectives to be sure that your packages are delivered on or before the promised date. Hope you found this article informative and that you enjoyed learning about all the industry secrets. Have a happy and prosperous New Year and don’t forget the next time you are looking for a very high quality framed Name Art sign or Letter Art photos!