U.S. Postal Service, private shipping companies will deliver more than 20 billion holiday packages this year
By Ralph Hardin firstname.lastname@example.org
Santa may be able to deliver gifts to all the good little boys and girls all in one night on Christmas Eve, but the rest of us have to rely on the shipping business to get our packages to loved ones during the holiday season. Fortunately, even lacking a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, those playing Santa for friends and relations this year have a number of options at their disposal. FedEx, UPS, DHL and others will all handle their share of holiday packages, but, even with cutbacks and branch office closings looming, the Postal Service is still the king of the Christmas present delivery services. Despite competition from other shippers, the USPS still sees in excess of 15 billion parcels during the run-up to Christmas. Post offices around the country are inundated with Christmas cards, care packages and gift boxes. Gift-givers need to be aware of fast approaching deadlines, especially those with an eye on sending packages overseas. Leisa Tolliver-Gay, USPS Customer Relations Coordinator for the Little Rock hub, offers some advice. “The earlier the better,” she suggests. “Sometimes people don’t realize how long it takes to get something to someone, especially around Christmas.” For the 2014 shipping calendar, both the First Class Mail International deadline and Priority Mail International guaranteed-by-Christmas delivery is Tuesday Dec. 1. For Priority Mail Express International, the deadline is Dec. 8. For Standard Post, it is Dec. 15. The deadline for Global Express Guaranteed delivery is Dec. 19. For regular First-class Mail and for Priority Mail, the deadline is Dec. 21, and for Priority Mail Express, the deadline is Tuesday Dec. 23. For those with loved ones serving overseas in the military who wish to send a little holiday cheer, Wednesday Dec. 2 is the deadline to ship Parcel Air Lift packages. Dec. 9 is the last day to send letters and cards via First-class Military Mail. For Priority Mail Express Military Service mail, the deadline is Dec. 15. Tolliver-Gay said she expects the week of Dec. 14, the last full week before Christmas, to be their busiest days leading up to the holidays. She said correct packaging is an important factor to consider when shipping gifts. “Everyone wants their package to look like a Christmas present,” she said. “But we recommend clear plain wrapping, preferably one of our own boxes.” Simple wrapping is the simplest and best way to ensure easy shipping and delivery. “Print the address completely and clearly,” she added. Senders also need to be aware of what can and can’t be shipped via U.S. Mail. Even during the holidays, the same rules that always apply to the mail still apply. There are restrictions and regulations on perishable items, live animals, electronic and magnetic items, and other materials, such as tobacco and firearms. Check with your local post office or visit faq.usps.com for more detailed guidelines on mailable items. If it is questionable, just take the item unwrapped to the post office or your shipper of choice, and if it can be shipped they will give you your best options. As for the competition, Tolliver-Gay says the post office definitely has felt the impact of shippers like FedEx and UPS. With online shopping becoming so prevalent, shipping companies often get consumers “coming and going,” shipping the item to the giver, who in turn ships the item to its ultimate recipient. Online shoppers may want to use “drop shipping,” which will deliver the item in question straight to the final destination. As long as the buyer doesn’t have the need to inspect the quality of the item first, such as an item bought on eBay, this method can save time and money. UPS and FedEx have carved their share of seasonal business with competitive pricing and on-time guarantees, and both carriers offer Christmas Eve delivery on packages shipped on Dec. 23. The post office says they can deliver on Christmas Eve or even Christmas Day in many cases. The post office offers shippers a few other conveniences as well. “Online,” said Tolliver-Gay, “you can buy postage, schedule at home pick-up, all without leaving your house.” If it becomes necessary to venture out, though, Tolliver-Gay had praise for the staff at the West Memphis Post Office. “They know what people need this time of year. And we’ll do lobby sweeps to help customers as well.” She said West Memphis is one of the state’s busiest locations. So consider your options this holiday season to ensure your gifts reach the hands of those intended. Regardless of which carrier you choose, consider insuring packages and give them enough time to get there.