J.Crew Bids to Play Santa With Christmas Delivery

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In a bold bid to corral last-minute shoppers, J.Crew for the second year in a row is promising delivery by Christmas Day for online orders placed by 11 a.m. EST on Dec. 24.

That privilege will cost continental U.S. customers an extra $25 for U.S. Postal Service "Santa delivery" by air.

"Having offered the Christmas Day delivery guarantee in the catalog since 1992, we have an effective, tried-and-true system in place so our customers almost never get disappointed," said Mark Walsh, executive vice president of brand strategy and e-commerce at J.Crew, New York. "The Christmas delivery success rate is 99 percent."

Luxury store Ashford.com is perhaps the only other high-profile e-tailer offering a similar shipping guarantee.

J.Crew's warehouse in Lynchburg, VA, can handle as many as 60,000 packages a day, with "a very dedicated staff volunteering for the Sunday night shift so we can get all the packages out on time," Walsh said.

Most online retailers, such as Wal-Mart.com, Amazon.com, Nordstrom.com, llbean.com, landsend.com and gap.com, offered holiday order cutoffs anywhere from Dec. 19 through Dec. 23.

In fact, many retailers stopped taking orders for ground delivery as early as Dec. 12, forcing consumers beyond that date to order third- and second-day service to guarantee delivery before Christmas.

"I think most consumers at this point are better informed, probably more than ever, but I think right up to the afternoon of Christmas Eve is pretty aggressive," said J.T. Kreager, president and chief operating officer at SubmitOrder Inc., a Columbus, OH, e-commerce outsourcing and fulfillment company.

"As I understand it, some of the busiest shopping days tend to be the weekend prior to Christmas, and I suspect they might be trying to take advantage of that statistical fact. Since Christmas is on a Monday, obviously the last two days were right prior, so they were trying to take advantage of all the people that put it off for the last minute."

Such a strategy leaves little room for error. Snowstorms could shut airports and slow down the transportation system, as was the case earlier this month in Chicago and Dallas.

It is not just the weather that could throw a monkey wrench into the works. Players such as Toysrus.com last year became the Internet's poster child for late Christmas deliveries that riled many expectant parents and children, even leading to a lawsuit. Fulfillment issues were behind the debacle.

To Toysrus.com's credit, it gave aggrieved customers gift certificates worth $100 redeemable at Toys 'R' Us stores.

But that will be little consolation for customers who pay a premium for Christmas Day delivery and find that the promise was not kept. The repercussions of failure include erosion of consumer goodwill.

"Of course, they could have customer dissatisfaction," Kreager said. "They're setting an expectation that they might be able to control, assuming that an act of God like a blizzard or something like that could slow down the transportation system."

J.Crew, which launched its site in 1996 and went e-commerce the following year, is aware of the risk.

"If you don't receive the order by Christmas Day, we will refund the added shipping cost, and, as with everything at J.Crew, if you're not completely satisfied, it can be returned for a full refund," Walsh said.

The retailer is further sweetening the package with the offer, even at this late juncture, to ship to multiple addresses to gift recipients. It also is throwing in gift-wrapping and a personalized message.

"We expect this year over 3,000 customers will take advantage of our Christmas Day delivery guarantee," Walsh said.

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