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Retailers reel in delivery deadlines to get Christmas gifts to shoppers on time

NEW YORK: Shoppers hoping to nab holiday gifts online this year may need to prepare well in advance for their purchases. Numerous retailers are setting earlier deadlines for merchandise ordered online to reach customers’ homes before Christmas.

Frères Branchiaux Candle Press co-founder Celena Gill designated Nov. 30 as the last day for customers to place their orders if they want scented soy candles to arrive before Christmas. “We have already seen a delay in shipping this month and we anticipate that it will be worse as we near Christmas day,” Gill said. She declined to comment on last year’s deadline.

State Bags, a New York-based luggage company, is cutting off Christmas shipping three days earlier than last year’s deadline of Dec. 18. It will not offer its annual two-day holiday shipping promotion this year due to supply chain issues, co-founder Jacqueline Tatelman said.

FedEx and United States Postal Service set ground shipping deadlines for Dec. 15, identical with last year’s delivery cutoffs – even though there is one day more between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. UPS is providing delivery deadline estimates on its website based on timing, location and shipping services.

By some estimates, there may be nearly 5 million more packages per day than delivery drivers can handle during the peak season when unit volumes can double. And, FedEx has already signaled trouble for its ground unit, which handled more than 9.3 million packages a day for customers including Walmart last quarter. In September, the Memphis-based company warned that employee hiring and retention problems were slowing deliveries.

UPS, the world’s biggest parcel delivery firm, is dropping low-profit customers – a move that could hit vulnerable retailers. On the other hand, UPS will make nationwide deliveries on Saturdays this year and is taking several other steps to minimize “chaos costs” and improve on-time service, UPS Chief Executive Carol Tome said.

Retailers typically use delivery cutoff dates as a competitive differentiator, and during normal times, they push them out as far as possible to appeal to last-minute shoppers. But that strategy comes with extra risk this year, particularly for small shops vulnerable to bad customer reviews. And, in a year marked by hurricanes and other severe storms, there’s little wiggle room for other unforeseen disruptions due to factors such as wicked winter weather.

But this year, retailers large and small are encouraging customers to shop early to shift demand and ease supply chain backups. Some U.S. shoppers are panicked that supply chain snarls will spread to home delivery of Christmas gifts, Tome said on a conference call with analysts on Tuesday.

“In fact, some think that 50% of holiday shopping will be completed by Cyber Monday,” said Tome. “Some of our customers are actually pulling forward promotions,” she said, referring to retailers’ earlier Christmas marketing messages that translated into a bump in demand.

For example, UPS began working with Amazon.com, its biggest customer, several months ago. Still, it will again enforce volume limits and not pick up all requested packages if unexpected volume threatens to swamp its system – a move that hit retailers like Gap, Macy’s and Nike last year.

Shopify is encouraging its merchants to update their shipping policy pages to highlight delays and lower expectations. The company is also suggesting that merchants offer earlier Black Friday-Cyber Monday sales and integrate local delivery options and curbside pickup for brick-and-mortar merchants.

Meanwhile, Etsy has improved its estimations of delivery dates to promote sales and reduce uncertainty for its community of homemade or vintage goods sellers. “Nearly every item from a U.S. seller will include an estimated delivery date this holiday season,” Etsy CEO Josh Silverman said in a blog post.

Larger retailers including Walmart, Target, Amazon, Macy’s and Best Buy have not announced their final delivery cutoff dates, but they are promoting options to reduce stress on the system. They’re offering early and extended Black Friday deals and enticing customers to use gig delivery services like DoorDash and Shipt or “buy online, pick up store” options.

Last year, Walmart announced its delivery deadlines in mid-December, while Amazon notified customers at the end of November that eligible products were available for two-day and one-day shipping on Dec. 23 and Christmas Eve.

America’s Justice Department sues Walmart, alleges its pharmacies helped fuel opioid crisis

The US Justice Department sued Walmart over its role in the opioid crisis on Tuesday, alleging the giant retailer wrongly filled prescriptions and worsened a public health disaster.

The suit accuses Walmart of irresponsible handling of orders, filling thousands of “invalid” prescriptions and ignoring red flags about problem orders as it sacrificed public health in a drive to boost sales.

Authorities could seek up to billions of dollars in penalties in the litigation that followed a multi-year investigation, the Justice Department said in a press release.

“As one of the largest pharmacy chains and wholesale drug distributors in the country, Walmart had the responsibility and the means to help prevent the persion of prescription opioids,” said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, acting head of the Justice Department’s civil pision.

“Instead, for years, it did the opposite — filling thousands of invalid prescriptions at its pharmacies and failing to report suspicious orders of opioids and other drugs placed by those pharmacies.”

Walmart, which initiated its own suit against the Justice Department in October, called the charges baseless on Tuesday.

It accused US authorities of embarking on a “transparent attempt to shift blame from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”

Sales at all costs?
The government lawsuit depicts Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, as “uniquely well positioned to prevent the illegal persion of opioids” through its operation of more than 5,000 pharmacies and its role in wholesale distribution of controlled substances through 2018.

But Walmart managers put “enormous pressure on pharmacists to fill prescriptions,” while its compliance unit collected data on invalid controlled-substance prescriptions but withheld the information from pharmacists, according to the US complaint.

The litigation cites one official in the compliance unit who said “driving sales” was more important than flagging refusal-to-fill reports and comments from managers who urged the quick filling of prescriptions because “shorter wait times keep patients in store.”

Walmart dismissed these arguments, decrying the complaint as “riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context.”

The company vowed to “keep defending our pharmacists as we fight this new lawsuit in court.”

In its own suit against the government, Walmart argued that the US crackdown put it in a no-win position.

Pharmacists “must make a difficult decision” of either accepting a doctor’s “medical judgment and fill the opioid prescription, or second-guess the doctor’s judgment and refuse to fill it,” the company said.

Pharmacists face potential federal action if prosecutors say an order was wrongly filled, or the chance of having their license “stripped for the unauthorized practice of medicine, not to mention the potential harm to patients in need of their medicine,” Walmart said in the suit.

The Justice Department case marks the latest instance of government crackdown in response to the opioid crisis, which authorities said has driven the first significant reduction in US life expectancy since the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s.

Nearly 450,000 people in the United States lost their lives to overdoses from both prescription and illegal opioids between 1999 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In October, OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to three criminal charges and agreed to pay $8.3 billion in fines to settle the case. Purdue’s role has also cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the company’s owners, the Sackler family.

Additional cases have taken on doctors and other parties in the pharmaceutical supply line, including pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS Health.

Shares of Walmart fell 1.2 percent to $144.17.