The long lines and costs of shipping holiday gifts frustrate plenty of shoppers, but experts say comparing prices is the best way to save money.
WISC-TV filled three identical boxes with the same three items: a stuffed teddy bear, a paperback novel and a picture frame. The packages, valued at $17.17 apiece, went to The UPS Store, FedEx and the U.S. Post Office in Madison destined for Spokane, Wash.
FedEx had the cheapest four-day guaranteed shipping at $10.74. The Post Office said the package would arrive in three days for $10.95, and UPS said it was likely to arrive in four days for $12.73. The scale at the UPS Store said that package was heavier than the other two by a few ounces, potentially increasing the cost.
Monday is the last day to send items and guarantee they arrive by Christmas with standard shipping, and the lines were long at the major shipping stores on Wednesday.
The costs of procrastinating were steep: For overnight shipping, UPS wanted $104, FedEx asked $89, and the Post Office's price was $39.40.
"If it's something that has to be there the next day and you procrastinated, it's going to cost big money, and that's your fault," said Mae Laatsch, a retail expert at Madison College.
Laatsch suggested shopping around, not only at the major shippers, but online to see whether your favorite retailer offers free shipping.
About 10 percent more retailers have that option this year than last, and consumers are getting used to the perk, Laatsch said.
"If you've got an app on your phone, it saves you from running around," she said. "The idea is that you can check online to see where the best deal is, and sometimes it's online and sometimes it's not."
Another trick is to ship to a business instead of a home, which is sometimes cheaper, she said.
Laatsch said stores will be busy and online ordering brisk next Monday on the last day to guarantee delivery by Christmas.
WISC-TV will follow up when the items arrive in Washington to make sure they got there on time and in good condition.