Consumers who’ve waited until now to start holiday shopping shouldn’t hold out for last-minute deals, according to our data and analysis

Despite concerns about global supply chain issues, many U.S. consumers are just now beginning to shop in earnest for the holidays–and if they want gifts to arrive on time, they should plan to take extra measures. 

While online buying increased starting in October, anywhere from 40% to 60% of consumers have yet to make holiday purchases, despite concerns over supply chain shortages. This contradiction is in line with fall data from Convey by project44, which found that while American consumers headed into the season concerned about out-of-stock items and shipping delays, the majority, 57%, planned to start shopping at the same time or later than last year. 

Furthermore, only 36% of shoppers said they were willing to give retailers 3 extra days or more to deliver goods, while 14% were unwilling to grant them any leeway at all. Seven in 10 said they would seek out free 2-day shipping, indicating their expectations may be unrealistic — especially now that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are in the rearview mirror. 

Here are tactics shoppers can use to ensure they have their holiday packages on time: 

Don’t hold out for bargains.

The hottest toys, the coolest sneakers, and the most popular board games may already be hard to find thanks to supply chain bottlenecks, so last-minute shoppers may find themselves out of luck. If they can locate the items they want, shoppers shouldn’t expect last-minute deals:  with retail labor costs higher and carriers assessing higher shipping and freight costs, merchants are unlikely to offer steep bargains. 

Add at least two days to estimated delivery dates. 

While Fedex, UPS and the US Postal Service’s shipping deadlines are similar to last year, consumers should take those guidelines with a grain of salt. All three major carriers saw on-time delivery and performance plummet during the holidays in 2020 — especially the USPS, which delivered only 61% of packages on time. With eCommerce volume expected to grow 5-10% this year, and with the carriers struggling to hire enough seasonal labor, Convey by project44 advises that shoppers add at least 2 days to whatever delivery date the shipper gives you.

Cluster gift purchases to qualify for free shipping.

The post office is charging an extra $.25-$5.00 for every package sent, UPS has added surcharges of $1-$5 per shipment, and Fedex is levying fuel surcharges, which means retailers struggling to maintain their margins may restrict or even eliminate free shipping offers. To reach higher purchase thresholds to qualify for free shipping,  consider grouping purchases together, rather than buying gifts from the same retailer one by one. 

If the clock is running out, skip “double shipping.” 

While grouping gift purchases can reduce delivery costs, items that can’t be hand-delivered may risk arriving late if they have to be mailed twice. Send presents to distant friends and relatives directly via the retailer, instead of taking delivery, wrapping items by hand, and shipping them again. 

Store pickup may not be faster. 

Convey by project44’s survey found that nearly 3 in 10 consumers want to use store pickup services, which are often free — but items may not be in stock on local shelves for immediate fulfillment. Plan for requests to take extra time as retailers move inventory between stores or truck items from distribution centers to outlets near you. 

Opt for a gift card. 

Digital gift card sales rocketed 80% year-over-year in 2020, and this year they’re among the top 3 most requested gifts — making them both popular and a practical alternative to physical goods. If your loved ones have their hearts set on a particular item, a gift card to cover its cost and an “IOU” can tide them over until after the holiday crunch. 

Buy local–or at least buy American.  

With delays increasing more than 400% year over year from Chinese ports to the U.S. West coast, shoppers would do well to consider gifts made locally, or at least in the U.S., to help reduce or eliminate freight and cargo transit times. 

For more consumer insights, read “Supply Chain Struggles Go Mainstream: What Brands Need to Know About 2021 Holiday Shopping,” Convey by project44’s report on shoppers’ intentions and priorities for the peak season.