How to Avoid a Shipping Nightmare During an Unusual Holiday Season

It's being called "shipageddon." Step 1: Start ridiculously early. Like now.

santa claus shipping box
Trying not to think about Christmas gifts or holiday shopping yet? Too bad.
Tetra Images via Getty

It’s easy to complain about Christmas creep. After all, protesting the early onset of holiday season has become as much of a Yuletide tradition as the actual subject of the scorn, like Starbucks coffee cups (which turned red and green on November 6) and the Hallmark Channel’s fake snow-festooned rom-com factory (which premiered its first new Christmas movie of the year a week before Halloween). But in 2020, we’re taking a less antagonistic tack.

This year, as the pandemic threatens to upend holiday traditions from Thanksgiving all the way into the new year, we’ve got three words for you: embrace Christmas creep. 

No, we’re not saying turn on the radio station with 24/7 carols (which, if you’re wondering, has started already). This is about shipping. More specifically, it’s about online shopping, and getting all your presents sent to your house, wrapped and then shipped on to their final destinations (Zoom gift exchanges, anyone?) on time during a global pandemic, when mail slowdowns have been the one of the rare things we can all count on. 

If you haven’t considered the potential nightmare that is holiday shipping intersecting with COVID-19, we don’t want to alarm you, but it’s already being called “shipageddon” and “shipocalypse.” Even the U.S. Postal Service sounded like a sarcastic, overworked parent when it announced its holiday shipping deadlines for the year (“Despite 2020’s Best Efforts, the Holidays Are Approaching”). You may not be ready to hear “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” despite Mariah’s best efforts, but it is time to start thinking about what you’re getting everyone on your list — and when.

How Holiday Shipping Is Changing During the Pandemic

What does the upcoming “shipaggedon” mean for you? It means shopping and shipping early, even as delivery companies and retailers try to stay calm. 

When reached for comment, spokespeople for USPS and UPS expressed confidence in their ability to handle the influx of packages around the holidays, both of them citing seasonal hiring practices as well as a demonstrated history of bulking up for the season. Additionally, those carriers as well as FedEx aren’t significantly (if at all) changing their shipping deadlines for 2020 when compared with 2019 (for reference, here are those dates for USPS, UPS and FedEx). That’s enough to make a holiday shopper complacent. Don’t fall for it. 

As FedEx Chief Marketing Officer Brie Carere recently told CNN Business, the behind-the-scenes story is more frantic: “The spread of COVID-19 in the US has triggered such an increase in e-commerce since March that shipping volumes have consistently been at Christmas peak or Cyber Monday levels every day.” We’ll let you imagine what happens when the actual events come around.

A good rule of thumb is to try and get most of your presents ordered and shipped on to their final destinations before December 11. As USPS notes, that day, two weeks before Christmas, is their busiest time of the year, so finishing your gifting by then will help you beat the bottleneck they’re expecting, as well as any extra delays no one sees coming. If you’re not normally a Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopper, treat this as an excuse to put aside your procrastinatory tendencies and get on the holiday shopping bandwagon early. But the best advice by far starts much earlier. In fact, it starts right now.

The Best Way to Beat the Stress of “Shipageddon”

Close your eyes and picture your normal holiday shopping routine. What does it look like? Even those who count themselves among the punctual and overprepared might find themselves scooping up a last-minute gift or two — for a forgotten Secret Santa or a family member’s last-minute date — and when that need arises, shoppers go local out of necessity. The neighborhood bookstore, boutique or home goods outlet suddenly becomes more vital than ever, and there’s a good chance they’ll gift wrap it for you, too. 

And let’s not forget the other, more existential reason to go local: as large corporations in the U.S. rebound from early pandemic losses, those same small businesses are still struggling. They don’t have the capital to pivot quickly, and Congress has stalled on financial aid. Similarly, they don’t have complex shipping apparatuses; instead, they rely on foot traffic, much of which comes during the holiday shopping season. But with early estimates suggesting that in-person traffic could be down by 25% (and most likely more, now that coronavirus cases are at an all-time high in the U.S.), come the new year, these businesses may have to call it quits. 

“We’re really trying to get the message out, to help customers understand that not just for bookstores but local retailers and local restaurants, if they want them to be there when the pandemic over [sic], they have to support those businesses now,” Gayle Shanks, an owner of Changing Hands Bookstore in Arizona, told The New York Times in October. Another bookstore owner said they do about 30% of their business in the last eight weeks of the year.

Have you figured it out yet? Yes, our best advice for saving yourself the extra stress that’s coming with this holiday season is to not shop online. Instead, shop early at local businesses that are open. You’ll give them a much needed financial boost before the end of the year, avoid potential lines at shops that have capacity restrictions because of COVID-19 and be able to get your presents out the door with plenty of time to spare. And if enough people do it (this is the part where you tell your friends and family to do the same!), you may end up helping a mom-and-pop shop weather the storm that is a COVID Christmas.

Of course, we’ll be releasing plenty of gift guides in the coming weeks where we’ll recommend you buy gifts online; and for some items, it just makes sense (can you think of a spot near you that sells the Hypervolt Percussion Therapy Gun?). But we also all have those neighborhood spots that we pass every day and are grateful for, yet maybe have never stepped foot in; for me, it’s a little house that sells goods from Faribault Woolen Mill Co. and a spice emporium. 

Now’s the time to step foot in them, masked up, with a Christmas (or Hanukkah, or nonsecular) list in hand.

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