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The Definitive Guide To Shipping During A Seasonal Rush

A woman with a notebook, cell phone, and sitting at a desk navigating seasonal shipping challenges.

The goal is to achieve record-breaking sales during big shopping seasons such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, holiday shopping, back-to-school, or product launches.

But the reality is even after you’ve made those sales, you still need to fulfill and ship every order.

Luckily, this is a great problem to have, and we’re here to help. This guide has everything you need to create an excellent shipping experience during a rush, including specific ways Shopify Shipping can help you ship more orders to more places, quickly and efficiently.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The first step in handling your busy-season shipping is to understand your process as it stands today.

  1. Map out your shipping process
  2. Stock up on shipping supplies
  3. Ensure you can meet important deadlines
  4. Set your busy-season shipping strategy
  5. Add weights to your products
  6. Market your shipping options and prices
  7. Prepare your return policy
  8. Pay attention to the unboxing experience

Map out your shipping process

Do you know what the steps are in your shipping process?

If the answer is no, now is the time to find out—and if the answer is yes but you don’t have it written down, it’s time to do that too. Getting the process out of your head and onto paper will help inform any team members or last-minute family “volunteers” helping you fulfill orders during busy periods.

Map out your shipping process ahead of a busy season

To figure out what your process is, pay close attention to the next few orders you ship, or check-in with your team if they handle fulfillment. Make a list of each step, and write down how long it takes (approximate times are fine).

For example, it might look like:

  • Open order in Shopify to review (30 seconds)
  • Get all of the ordered items in one place (1 minute)
  • Get out appropriately-sized packaging (20 seconds)
  • Package items and put them in the shipping parcel (2 minutes)
  • Include any “extras” in the package, like coupons or free gifts (30 seconds)
  • Secure package with tape and a branded sticker (30 seconds)
  • Print shipping labels from Shopify (1 minute)
  • Attach the shipping label to package (30 seconds)

While you’re outlining the stages of your process, look closely for any bottlenecks, and note how long each step takes to complete. Is there anything you can do to streamline those steps or make them more efficient?

Shaving 30 seconds or a minute off each shipment might not seem like much, but if you’re handling ten shipments a day, that’s already five minutes you (or your team) could spend on something else.

Save time by buying and printing shipping labels in bulk

To help you save time on every order you fulfill, you can buy and print multiple shipping labels at the same time in Shopify, which will cut down on the time you spend fulfilling orders. Since you’ll also access negotiated shipping rates for USPS, DHL, UPS, or Canada Post when you ship with Shopify, it’s a real win-win. Additionally, consider integrating USPS address verification into your shipping process for accurate delivery information.

To get started, all you need to do is go into your Orders page and select the orders you want to fulfill.

When you select “Create shipping labels” you’ll see the full list of shipping prices and details for all the orders you’ve selected, and you can buy shipping labels and print them from that page. If any information is missing, you’ll be able to fill it in right there.

Print multiple shipping labels in Shopify at the same time

Start printing in bulk

When you buy shipping labels in bulk with Shopify Shipping, you can print packing slips at the same time. Packing slips communicate your package’s contents to your customers and may help ensure that an order is delivered if the package’s shipping label is damaged.

The time you save will really add up over the course of shipping 10, 100, or 1,000 orders during a busy season like BFCM, so don’t stop there. If there are other parts of the shipping process you can optimize, implement those changes well ahead of your anticipated rush.

Stock up on shipping supplies

With a consistent process in place you should have a good idea of what physical items you need to fulfill each order. Now it’s time to see how your shipping inventory is doing, and to ensure you have enough of each item to handle your forecasted sales.

The last thing you want is to have your shipping process grind to a halt because you realize halfway through your pending orders that you’re out of sticky labels.

If you’re using a desktop printer, prepare beforehand by replenishing your supply of printing labels. If you’re looking to upgrade to a thermal printer for your shipping, do that now and not two days before Black Friday—you’ll always save yourself a few headaches by getting to know the tools you need to rely on during the rush.

You can also stock up on free Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express Flat Rate packaging directly from USPS, so if you’re able to take advantage, place those orders well ahead of time, too.

Get your shipping supplies together before a busy season

Ensure you can meet important shipping deadlines

These are the recommended domestic ship-by dates for delivery by December 25th from carriers available through Shopify Shipping.


Service Deadline
First-Class Package Service® Friday, December 20
First-Class Mail® Friday, December 20
Priority Mail® Saturday, December 21
Priority Mail Express® Monday, December 23

For USPS deadlines for international and military addresses, see here.


Service Deadline
UPS Ground Friday, December 13
UPS 3 Day Select® Thursday, December 19
UPS 2nd Day Air® Friday, December 20
UPS Next Day Air® Monday, December 23

For the full UPS year-end shipping schedule, see here.

DHL Express

For the DHL Express holiday schedule, see here.

Canada Post

Service Deadline
Parcels/Packets to the US Tuesday, December 10
Regular Parcel™ Wednesday, December 11
Xpresspost™ Friday, December 20
Priority™ Saturday, December 21
Priority™ Worldwide to the US Saturday, December 21

For the full Canada Post holiday schedule, see here.

Set your busy-season shipping strategy

Your process is set and you’re all stocked up on supplies. The next step is to figure out the customer-facing details—specifically, what are you going to charge for shipping?

The most common options are free shipping, flat rate shipping, and exact cost shipping. We’ve got some tips to help you figure out which one is right for your store.

1. Free shipping

Shipping costs are frequently the most-cited reason why people abandon their carts, so offering free shipping is a smart way to use a compelling offer to improve conversion rates, without solely relying on percentage or dollar value discounts.

That said, it’s not always cheap to provide, even with the discounted rates you get through USPS, UPS, DHL, and Canada Post with Shopify. If you want to offer free shipping to everyone, you need to understand how it affects your margins and what rates you’re on the hook to cover—including what it costs to ship your heaviest items, and shipping to your furthest locations.

However, it’s not all or nothing when it comes to free shipping.

You could offer free shipping some of the time, to some of your customers. Consider sending a free shipping coupon code to your current customers to encourage repeat orders, or offering free shipping above a certain order size to increase your average order value.

However, when providing free shipping, you’ll need to watch out for shipping cutoff dates. If you’re only springing for free standard shipping, you’ll need to make the expected arrival dates crystal clear so your customers can order in time for their holiday of choice.

2. Flat rate shipping

If you want to offset some of your shipping costs and still avoid sticker shock when people check out, a flat rate shipping policy could be the perfect fit. With flat rate shipping, set a price that will cover most of your shipping costs, most of the time, and be ready to cover the cost for particularly expensive shipping options or items.

With flat-rate shipping, aim to set a price that will cover most of your shipping costs, most of the time.

Your customers will always know the shipping fees ahead of time, and you’ll still recoup most of your shipping costs, which is the best of both worlds.

3. Exact cost shipping

With exact cost shipping, customers can see exactly what it’ll cost to ship their order, and pay for it when they check out, and they’ll get the same discounted USPS, UPS, DHL, and Canada Post rates that are available to you as a Shopify merchant when you fulfill your orders with Shopify Shipping.

Remember, cart abandonment rates tend to go up around BFCM and other holidays, and shipping costs are one reason why.

Just remember: Cart abandonment rates tend to go up around BFCM, and shipping costs are one reason why. It’s not a deal breaker to offer exact cost shipping, especially if that’s what works best for your business, but it is important to be aware of the potential impact—and have a plan in place to win back shoppers who’ve abandoned their carts.

4. International shipping

You might not be shipping internationally right now because it seems complicated and expensive, but it’s not as tricky as you think it might be. Plus, customers are more and more likely to shop outside of their borders, so if you’re considering expanding your audience, an international shipping strategy is one great way to do it.

Plus, there are three carriers with international shipping options built directly into Shopify Shipping to streamline the process for you: USPS, DHL Express, and UPS. You can ship with the same premium carriers that global retailers use with guaranteed express service, negotiated shipping rates, and service to over 220 countries and territories.

Whichever option you use, when you purchase international shipping labels through Shopify Shipping, all of the customer’s forms and details you need are automatically generated for you. If you’re shipping with DHL Express, the information is electronically transmitted to customs, so you won’t need to bother with paperwork at all.

Once you’ve decided on a pricing strategy, it’s time to get into implementation by making sure each product is shipping-ready, and that starts with adding accurate weights.

Add weights to your products

Adding an up-to-date weight to each of your products helps customers see accurate shipping costs during checkout based on their chosen items. It’s good for them, but it’s also good for you: You’ll be able to quickly print accurate shipping labels for each order because you won’t need to update or correct the weight mid-fulfillment.

Need to figure out how much each product weighs? No worries. You have plenty of time to order a shipping scale ahead of BFCM.

Market your shipping options and prices

We know unexpected shipping costs can hurt your conversion rates, but “how much will it cost?” isn’t the only pressing question your customers have about shipping during the holiday season. Equally important is “will my order get here in time?”

Don’t be afraid to over-communicate when you’re answering both questions, since the answers are critical to anyone considering buying from you.

This email from Province of Canada shows how you can clearly let your customers know the time-and-day cutoff to place their orders so they arrive before a holiday—in this case, Father’s Day. They’ve also taken the opportunity to send a final reminder about their sale, making their email pull double duty.

An email sent before a holiday to communicate shipping details

If you’re short on time or design resources, or simply prefer the reliability of plain formatting, text-based information works just as well—especially if you have details you know your customers are going to care about. Take this example of an email from Emily Ley looping their customers in on shipping details.

Plain text email about shipping times

Your international customers will appreciate the info just as much as your US customers, and you’ll equip them to make better purchase decisions, too.

Beyond using email, here are additional ways you can get that information in front of the right people, at the right times during BFCM.

  • Add a banner promoting shipping prices, options and timelines to your store. Too much to fit in a banner? Link to a blog post or dedicated shipping information page in your store.
  • If you’ve got a shipping deadline coming up, add a popup to make sure shoppers are aware (popups are only annoying if they’re useless, and making sure orders get there by the holidays is hands-down useful to your customers during BFCM and the holidays).
  • Add a homepage image or section that clearly communicates all of your shipping information.
  • Share your shipping information on social media. Even if you don’t have free shipping, cutoff dates are a great thing to promote using branded images on Instagram and Facebook.
  • Send a reminder email to everyone on your list—and everyone who has abandoned their cart—on the last day they can expect a purchase to arrive before the holidays. You might opt for more email reminders, but this one is non-negotiable. You’ll catch a lot of procrastinators who intended to buy, but needed one final nudge (which is a sizeable group, let’s be honest).
  • Update your FAQ page. If you don’t have one, now’s the time to write one addressing the most common shipping questions. People will naturally go to this page to find the answers they need about shipping if it’s not obvious elsewhere, so you’ll save yourself a ton of customer support by getting it set up early.

If you’re looking for some good images to level up your marketing messages about shipping, check out Burst’s collection of shipping images.

Prepare your return policy

Another aspect of shipping you’ll need to keep in mind during a busy season is returns, since research indicates 67% of ecommerce buyers will check your return policy before buying. When it comes to planning, you’ll want to pay specific attention to return shipping costs.

There are three main ways you can handle the cost of return shipping labels:

  1. Your customer pays the cost of return shipping
  2. You pay the cost of return shipping
  3. A combination of the two

The right strategy for you will depend on your margins, as well as your expected return rate, but keep in mind that return rates can be high during gift-giving seasons. Whatever you decide, make sure that you communicate your return shipping information as clearly and prominently as you do your shipping rates—it’ll save you time and customer support effort if people do decide to initiate a return.

Pay attention to the unboxing experience

After all the work required to successfully ship and fulfill your orders, you want to provide an equally great experience when customers finally get to open their package. With a bit of planning, you can create a stand-out unboxing experience that drives real business results.

So start with that in mind: What do you want the result of your unboxing experience to be?

I want… social shares

To encourage social shares, consider branded packaging, a small gift, or a call-to-action asking people to share their experience. This can be as simple as a small business card with your social handles, a hashtag, and a (polite!) request that they post on social media if they enjoy your products. Posts from happy customers are also some of the most valuable user-generated content available to you, but remember to secure permission before repurposing any content created by your customers.

Asking for social shares is a great way to get some user-generated content to fill up your social feeds for the next few months.

Since there’s a strong chance that at least a few of your holiday orders are gifts, including social media prompts into the packaging itself is one way to make sure they’re seen by the intended recipient. Mom and Dad are probably not going to Instagram a unicorn highlighter, especially since it will ruin the surprise.

I want… repeat business

If you want to drive repeat business, consider adding samples of your other products, or include a coupon code on your packing slip that encourages repeat orders, like free shipping on their next purchase or 10% off if they buy again in the new year.

Knowing many of your purchases will be gifts can inform your strategy, too. For example, try including two coupons—one for the gift-giver, and one for the recipient—as a way to potentially get two customers for the price of one. If you include samples, your products may end up in the hands of someone who would never have tried your product otherwise—that’s a win.

I want… to stand out

As a small business, one advantage you have over big-box competitors is the ability (and willingness) to do things that don’t necessarily scale. If you want to make a strong impression during major sales seasons like BFCM, remind your customers that they’re supporting real people with their purchase by including a personalized touch like a hand-written thank you note.

Hand written notes can help you stand out during the holiday season

No matter what unboxing experience you’re trying to create, you’ll need to make sure you have the supplies to make it happen before you’re sitting down to ship your orders out, which is why it’s important to plan well ahead of a rush to get your supplies in time. Your well-laid plans will only be realized if you can actually implement them.

As a small business gearing up to get a piece of the holiday sales action, it’s important to get your logistics on point well ahead of the busy shopping season.

Plan now for shipping success later

As a small business gearing up to get a piece of the holiday sales action, it’s important to get your logistics on point well ahead of the busy shopping season. It’ll help create a great experience for your customers, and it’ll definitely help make for a smoother experience for you and anyone involved in helping you get those orders out the door.

This article was originally published by our friends at Shopify.

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