With the success of Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2012, we'd wager that a lot of shoppers have gotten a head start on their holiday buying. But since it's only the first week in December, there's still time to find the perfect gifts at the best prices for all those on your holiday gift list. Just don't wait too long to make your online purchases, as there are some potential risks involved in procrastinating just a little too much.
Beyond the challenge of finding the right gift and staying within your budget, you'll want the assurance that it'll arrive in time for the holidays. Many merchants, of course, take great care to expedite their processes during the holiday season, and there are numerous others that offer a special Christmas guarantee, which may include refunds for orders that don't arrive in time. But not all retailers are that reliable.
There are a few types of stores (and a handful of retailers in particular) whose shipping policies are likely to cut it close to Christmas. If you're interested in purchasing from any of these retailers below, you should place your order this week, otherwise you'll run the risk of your gifts not arriving in time for the holiday. But, as we get closer to Christmas and your purchases become more last-minute, it's smart to avoid these stores entirely. So, who made the naughty list?
Stores with Slow Shipping
We mention these stores with the side note that many of them might in fact feature shipping guarantees. However, they're also periodic offenders of extremely late delivery, so we feel that it's still worth keeping in mind what the potential processing and shipping delays might be. After all, a store might guarantee a refund if an order is late, but that does you little good if you have nothing to give on December 25.
First up is Kohl's, which is notoriously guilty of slow processing; according to our own staff experiences, it can take a week between a "Thank you for your Kohls.com order" email and the subsequent "Your Kohls.com order is ready to be shipped" message. Sometimes orders are processed more quickly than this, but the erratic nature of delivery time makes us nervous when buying with a hard deadline.
Meritline is also on the slow shipper list, and although we don't expect you to buy, say, a data cable for your loved ones as a gift, some of the store's quirky goods — like these USB Heated Warmer Gloves ($3.99 with free shipping) — make for nifty, inexpensive stocking stuffers. Unfortunately, most items require two to three weeks for delivery, while even the items marked 1-week delivery can take a while to arrive.
Additionally, according to STELLAService (a company that measures retailer customer service), the slowest shippers in the past six months have consistently been Target, Overstock, Dell, and HSN. STELLAService data shows that each averages about a 6-day turnaround, from placing the order to receiving it. But, one of the most frequently-named and disappointing retailers amongst our own readers and staff is Best Buy, as many have complained about the store's processing and shipping policies. Our Editor in Chief checked his numerous past orders and discovered that Best Buy usually takes five days to process an order, upon which you can tack on the days its actually in transit. (Some of our writers have experienced even longer processing times.) Another writer evaluated three recent orders and discovered that on average, they took two weeks to arrive.
Merchants with Slow Ship-to-Store
Some folks find it easier to either avoid potential shipping costs or missing their UPS guy by having their items sent directly to a local brick-and-mortar store. But even in-store deliveries can be delayed. JCPenney's jcp.com Catalogue Desk orders can be shipped to affiliated, non-JCP locations for convenience, but this can also introduce different processes that vary by store. Chances are high that smaller stores have a less streamlined method for processing site-to-store orders, which may explain the numerous complaints we've received about items arriving late, or not being on the premises at all when they should be. Payless Shoes orders shipped to a store for pickup, too, often take a full 14 days for delivery.
Walmart is another big retailer that offers a free ship-to-store option. However, it can be tedious since shoppers can only pick up their orders when the customer service desk is staffed. Store hours vary, but for some locations, the hours are the normal 9 to 5, which means customers will have a hard time picking up orders after work. There's also the risk of in-store pickup deliveries taking up to a week to arrive.
Flash Sale and Daily Deal Sites
Many flash sale sites don't actually possess the items they're selling; Lot 18, for example, takes orders from its users, but the wine itself is packaged and shipped by each specific winery. This often contributes to a lengthy processing time and slow delivery. Numerous flash stores, as well, like Fab, Rue La La, and daily deal sites like DailySteals.com and 1 Sale A Day clearly state that shipping for some items may take several weeks, but sometimes their wares are still positioned as holiday options. Pay close attention to whether your selected gift will actually be available for delivery before Christmas and note that there are often no expedited shipping options available.
Stores That Specialize in Personalization
Merchants like RedEnvelope, Pottery Barn, and L.L. Bean are popular holidays shops because of their gift-friendly personalized items. But not only does this customization add an extra and sometimes time-consuming step (which some of our readers have lamented), it also introduces a more significant chance of encountering an error that cannot be fixed in time for the holiday. (See "Jorden" at right.) A store may fix an item with a misspelled name free of charge, but not without tacking on a few extra weeks to your gift-giving timeline.
Retailers with a Tendency to Cancel Orders
A cancelled order can upset any shopper, no matter the time of year, but it's especially annoying when the store doesn't notify the customer in a timely fashion. Not only is there a loss of time spent finding the original deal, but there's even less time to find a replacement. Last year, Best Buy cancelled hundreds of orders just weeks before Christmas, and though the retailer did offer refunds and credits, a number of shoppers refuse to take that same risk again.
In fact, Best Buy has again cancelled some Black Friday 2012 orders, but it has done so in a timely fashion this year. Yet it's likely that this doesn't change consumers' past experiences, as many customers remain wary of shopping with Best Buy again. Toys "R" Us and Fry's also cancelled orders after Black Friday weekend, and the dealnews staff has had issues in general with Shoebuy, newegg, Reebok, and Kate Spade.
When DeepDiscount's parent company Infinity Resources had its Better Business Bureau accreditation revoked in 2010, dealnews stopped listing its wares. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that consumers have stopped shopping there... or at other questionable online stores. And not having an accreditation doesn't stop resellers from offering their goods on eBay, etsy, and the like, either. We wholly advise skipping the sale from a merchant without a BBB listing, and to be aware of seller-specific processing and shipping guidelines, as many can take up to 30 days to process and ship.
All in all, we want our readers to enjoy their holiday shopping as much as they can. To keep the anxiety down, we again remind all you love-to-shop-last-minute gift-givers not only to be leery of flash sale sites and personalized items, but to think twice about ordering from stores with slow shipping and a history of canceling orders. If you must do any last-minute gift buying, you can always shop in-store with printable coupon in-hand.
Emily Dovi is the copy editor for dealnews.com, a website devoted to finding the best deals on consumer goods. The site pledges to list the best deal, whether or not it's from an advertiser, although it does work with advertisers to craft deals for readers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. This feature first appeared in dealnews.com.