Better Hurry, the Shipping Deadline for Christmas Is Approaching Fast

Just in the nick of time.

That’s Target’s motto this holiday season, as it promises on-time Christmas deliveries for online orders placed by Tuesday.

But some retailers are being a little more jolly.

In today’s fast-paced digital world, procrastinators are being rewarded, and will be able to shop online as late as Thursday and still get presents safely underneath the tree in time for Christmas.

For example, Wal-Mart will rush packages to your door for orders placed as late as Wednesday; Amazon is offering regular free two-day shipping as late as Wednesday; Zappos is offering free shipping for orders made by 1 pm PT on Thursday; and Toys “R” Us will go as late as noon on Thursday for express shipping.

There are exceptions, of course, and Amazon is a big one.

For orders placed on Thursday, one-day shipping will cost shoppers $3.99 an item; for items ordered on Friday, only Amazon Prime members will be able to pay $9.99 an item for on-time delivery; those in 11 U.S. cities can wait until Saturday, at which point it will cost $3.99 per item to ship by local express.

Amazon Prime is the e-commerce company’s membership service; it charges $79 a year for free two-day shipping and other perks, like free streaming videos.

One of the biggest limitations for the holiday is the logistics of getting a package from a distribution center to someone’s home. For example, FedEx won’t be running on Christmas, but will be running partial operations on Christmas Eve, a Saturday.

At this late point in the year, physical retailers shine.

For example, Apple’s shipping cutoff date is on Wednesday, but it will allow customers to order online and pick up in the store until 11 pm on Friday. On Christmas Eve, many of its stores will be open until 6 pm. Toys “R” Us and Best Buy are also offering free in-store pickup, adding late hours to accommodate the busiest of people. Best Buy will be open until 3 pm local time on Dec. 24, and Toys “R” Us will will stay open for 112 hours straight, starting at 6 am Tuesday, Dec. 20 and closing at 10 pm on Saturday night.

Online retailers can’t compete with store hours but, conversely, stores have had a hard time competing with the deals online, especially earlier in the season.

This holiday period, Amazon prompted consumers to consider the moral dilemma of shopping in stores versus online, when it kicked off a Dec. 10 promotion that offered $5 off to consumers as an inducement to walk out of stores empty-handed. EBay fired back with its own promotion, which gave online shoppers a $10 coupon to return to stores.

To be sure, online retailers will have something to celebrate on Sunday.

ComScore, which is tracking online spending habits this holiday season, said $30.9 billion had been spent online during a 46-day shopping window that ended Dec. 16, marking a 15 percent increase over last year.

Spending last Friday — dubbed Free Shipping Friday — hit $1.07 billion; it was the fourth day to surpass the billion-dollar mark this year. Still, Cyber Monday — the Monday following Thanksgiving — appears to rank as the heaviest online spending day of the year for the second consecutive season.

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