Posted on Dec 20, 2011 @[email protected]

Procrastinators rejoice. Last-minute shopping just got easier.

A number of retailers including Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc., Charming Shoppes Inc.’s Lane Bryant and Kohl’s Corp., are guaranteeing Christmas delivery for online orders placed later than they did last year, thanks to new distribution centers, robotic technology and other changes they’ve made over the last year to speed up delivery times.

Shipping has become an important weapon in the fight for consumers’ wallets. Amazon.com Inc. raised the bar with its Prime program, which includes unlimited two-day delivery on purchases for a $79 membership.

Shoppers typically avoid online merchants the days leading up to Christmas, worried about receiving orders in time for the 25th. But many retailers have pushed to improve delivery speeds over the past few years. Internet sales are projected to rise 15% this holiday, while in-store sales are expected to grow by less than 4%. Extending the shipping cut-off date even by one day—or even a few hours—can boost revenues during the most important time of the year for retailers.

“We prepare for 51 weeks and this is the week it all comes down to,” says Vijay Talwar, CEO of online jeweler Blue Nile Inc. Orders during the last week before Christmas typically swell as procrastinating men turn to the site for baubles and engagement rings, he says. The jeweler is guaranteeing Christmas delivery on all U.S. orders placed by 7 p.m. on Dec. 23. Last year, the cutoff time was 3 p.m.

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