If you start the countdown for the all-important holiday shopping season from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Day, it can last anywhere between 25 and 31 days in the United States. The moving target of Thanksgiving each year is the variable that can shorten or lengthen the shopping season, since the fourth Thursday of November can be anywhere from November 22 to November 28.

This year, it's November 28, the latest it can be, so the shopping season is six days shorter than last year, and is the shortest since 2013. That has retailers starting sales a bit later than usual, with less time to fulfill orders. But customers will still expect shipments to arrive on time.

Despite the short holiday season, this year is shaping up to be action-packed, according to those that track these things, thanks in part to technology. Overall, the National Retail Federation (NRF) expects holiday retail sales during November and December to increase between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent over 2018 to a total of between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion. The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants, compare with an average holiday sales increase of 3.7 percent over the previous five years.

NRF expects online and other non-store sales to increase between 11 percent and 14 percent to between $162.6 billion and $166.9 billion, up from $146.5 billion last year.

So, with all this growth at retail—and lots of packages to ship as more retailers take an omnichannel and ship-from-store approach to meeting the holiday crunch—what do shippers need to keep in mind this short holiday season?

Tip #1: Know the Major Carriers’ Holiday Service Schedules

In today’s omnichannel, multi-carrier shipping world, looking for the right shipper at the right price is common. However, it is important for your business to know the major carriers’ holiday service schedules, because if the lowest rate will get your shipment delivered on Dec. 26, it'll be the return of that item you’ll be more concerned with.

Tip #2: Pack for Profits

As we went into detail here, accessorial charges can really impact your bottom line. One of them, DIM fees, can be avoided by adding cartonization algorithm technology to help you pack better and cut down on paying to ship air (“air taxes”), which the carriers will be sure to enforce as the space in their trucks is at a premium during the holidays.

Tip #3: Be Ready Early for Late Orders

The ability to integrate orders from an ERP or OMS system directly into enterprise parcel shipping software that is developed with retail and eCommerce in mind will cut down on paperwork, manual data entry, and errors when pushing hard for last-minute shipments that must get out for the holidays. Uploading shipment costs and tracking information to your ERP or OMS system will help provide you and your customers with complete visibility. This is useful for customer service, claims management, and to better understand the true landed cost of goods.

Tip #4: Expand Your Delivery Services

Customers want delivery choices. You can meet that demand by expanding your portfolio of carrier services and, at the same time, reduce the risk that any one carrier is unable to handle all the holiday volume. The good news is that there are more choices than ever, including local same-day and white glove services that can ship from stores and drop ship from suppliers. Use of local services will speed up delivery times and reduce costs.

Tip #5: Offer Your Employees Personal Shipping Services

Holidays mean that not only are your customers shipping gifts to friends and family, but your employees are as well. By implementing a personal shipping option to your desktop shipping app, you will reduce unproductive time your employees may have to spend waiting in line at the local post office. In addition, providing personal shipping reduces the incidents of unauthorized use of corporate carrier accounts (“rogue shipping”), which can directly impact your bottom line.

The holiday season is considered by many to be a time to relax and enjoy time with friends and family. However, for the retail and e-tail industry, it is also a time of make or break since as much as 20 percent of the year’s revenues are made during that time. By getting your shipping logistics in order now, you’ll be able to ensure a happy holiday shipping season for you and your customers.