Teresa McUsic

Order early to get your presents delivered on time

Monday is expected to be the busiest shipping day of this year’s holiday season.
Monday is expected to be the busiest shipping day of this year’s holiday season. AP

Is holiday package delivery Armageddon starting up again?

If my recent experience with late, damaged or undelivered packages is any indication, it could be another rough season for holiday shipping this year.

One college care package I mailed at the post office with two-day shipping in early November was delivered a week late and badly damaged.

Another delivery of a gift basket ordered through Amazon around Thanksgiving missed its Prime two-day delivery promise by eight days.

Amazon also would not give me an estimated delivery date on a foot massager for my father purchased this week, even though I am a Prime member and requested my free two-day shipping. Amazon later said its estimated shipping was expected to be 3-10 days after my purchase date — not even close to two days.

Finally, a $500 50-inch television purchased online at Walmart the day before Thanksgiving was never delivered. After going online to check the status, Walmart said it was lost and there were no more sets in stock at that price.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. I think the delivery infrastructure is getting slammed again.

Several reports point to a major surge in online shopping this holiday season, increasing congestion for shippers.

▪  The National Retail Federation said more people shopped online during Thanksgiving and Black Friday than in stores. Around 34.6 million people shopped in stores on Thanksgiving, while 41 million shopped online. On Black Friday, 74.2 million went into stores while 75.3 million shopped online.

▪  The Postal Service said it expects to handle approximately 600 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, an increase of 10.5 percent over last year.

▪  Cyber Monday ranked as the largest day in history for online shopping, topping out at around $3 billion in sales.

Two years ago, we had holiday shipping problems when an estimated 2 million express packages didn’t arrive by Christmas, according to Shipmatrix, a software tracking developer. Both UPS and FedEx apologized for the delays as the number of packages exceeded network capacity.

Last year was better, and this year the big shippers and Postal Service have hired thousands to help with higher volumes. The postal service has added seven-day delivery in areas like DFW for December.

Given the potential for shipping problems, here are seven ways to get your holiday gifts under the tree in time.

1. Shop and ship now. The Postal Service predicts that Monday will be the busiest mailing and shipping day for holiday packages, letters and cards. It is also expected to be the busiest day online with more than 7 million customers expected to visit usps.com.

For standard mail to be received by Dec. 25, the post office says it must be mailed by Dec. 15; first class mail by Dec. 19; priority mail by Dec. 21. The post office predicts its busiest delivery day to be Dec. 21, with more than 30 million packages delivered on that day alone.

2. Keep your receipts. If a package doesn’t show up or is damaged, you can usually get a refund from delivery services. But having your receipt is essential.

3. Watch for fake notifications. The Better Business Bureau warns to be careful clicking links in shipping notification emails, which may be scammers. Always verify the shipping company before giving out any personal information.

4. Get alerts, download apps. The post office and commercial shippers offer real-time delivery notifications. Customers who sign up for alerts with the post office at https://my.usps.com will get a notification within a few minutes of the delivery scan. Similar alerts and tracking can be found at FedEx, UPS and through retailers. The UPS mobile phone app sends a notice the day before delivery, allows you to leave instructions on where to drop a package at your house, and for a fee gives you a two-hour window for delivery.

5. Check credit and debit accounts. As a second way to remind yourself of purchases, look more often at your bank accounts online. If you haven’t seen an item appear on your doorstep or heard from the retailer via email, contact a customer service representative to check on delivery.

6. Use tech to avoid theft. We’ve already seen some reports of people lifting packages off other people’s doorsteps. Consider some new gadgets at stores like Best Buy to secure your deliveries.

Shane Kitzman, a spokesman for Best Buy, recommends smart home devices like the Chamberlain MyQ ($119) garage door controller and the August smart lock ($199) that let you remotely control access to your garage or home via your smartphone. While away, you can open the door when the driver delivers a package, then close it again.

7. Free shipping day. On Dec. 18, more than 700 merchants — including many major retailers like Walmart and Target — have pledged to offer free shipping with no minimum order requirements and guaranteed delivery by Dec. 24. Check out those retailers at freeshippingday.com. This is the one day smaller retailers like Harry & David, Keurig and Fisher Price make the offer.

With these steps you should have a good chance of having presents under the tree.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays.