How to Make the Most of Free Shipping Day

A guide to the retailers that will help make your last-minute online shopping cheaper.

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For a limited time only, shipping is on the house at over 1,000 retailers. That's because  Friday, December 17, 2010 is Free Shipping Day. Participating stores also guarantee that your order will arrive before Christmas. Plenty of major retailers are participating: Sears, Kmart, Toys 'R' Us, Zales, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and the Disney Store are just a few of the top names.

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Conspicuously absent from the list are Amazon and Walmart. Both stores have chosen to run alternate promotions instead. Amazon is offering free shipping on most orders over $25, as well as free two-day shipping via their Amazon Mom, Amazon Student and Amazon Prime programs. Walmart is already offering free and 97 cent shipping on select items, and has been for months.

Free Shipping Day sounds exciting, right? Order whatever you want and skip the nasty shipping fees that always manage to add $10 to your order. Think how much you can save as you check those last minute gifts off your list!

Before you whip out the plastic, take a deep breath and consider one thing: It may be one of the last days to order online and get your gifts by Christmas, but retailers are viewing it as one last-ditch effort to suck your hard earned cash straight out of your wallet and into their virtual registers. Besides, free shipping offers and discounts are nothing new. A simple internet search will reveal coupon codes that can net you free shipping almost anywhere, any day of the year. (See also: 6 Commandments of Online Shopping.)

Free Shipping Day: How to Maximize Savings

• Make the most of the free shipping opportunity by searching the clearance and sale sections of each web site. If you can combine a free shipping offer with a 50 to 70 percent off markdown, you really are saving money.

• Read the fine print carefully. Free Shipping Day sounds like it means free shipping site wide, on all orders. However, it really doesn’t play out that way. Retailers decide individually what to offer free shipping on, and what to charge for. Only about half of the retailers participating in Free Shipping Day are offering free shipping with no minimum purchase. Other sites get hung up on their own terms and conditions and want you to show them the money before they shell out for shipping. For example, JC Penney is offering free shipping on orders over $25. Sears is only offering it on orders over $39.

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• How to tell the nice sites from the naughty sites: Look for a banner on the top of your chosen web site that says “Free Shipping.” Then look for that ever-present “Terms and Conditions may apply." It should be right underneath the free shipping banner. Click that to see the full disclosure. If all else fails, the proof is in your cart at checkout.

• Always search for additional discount codes. Some retailers will even allow you to use more than one. Stack as many discounts as possible so that you can walk away with a smile on your face.

• If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. It is so easy to get sucked into a sale and believe that you are saving money. Retailers are laughing all the way to the bank! Make your last-minute list ahead of time to avoid temptation.

• Keep in mind that Free Shipping Day is only the last day for standard shipping before Christmas, not all shipping. Expedited shipping will still be available all the way up to December 22. If you’re shopping the last-minute sales and saving more than $30 on your order, then paying more money to ship things faster is still a legitimate option.

If you find yourself needing to order last minute gifts and you don’t want to pay mega-shipping fees, then Amazon.com is probably your best bet. They will continue to offer free two-day shipping through their various programs well into next year.

All warnings aside, there are so many retailers participating this year that you can definitely find ways to wrap up your holiday gift giving within minimal fuss and expense. In addition to the major players, hundreds of smaller, family owned shops are offering free shipping. Various Etsy stores including Nachokitty (which sells vintage country-themed items) and 2 Belles and a Bead (selling hand-made jewelry) have declared that they too, will participate in free shipping day.

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You can also take advantage of the many Yahoo stores and Ebay sellers offering free shipping. Both places are known for their bargains, but check the seller’s feedback ratings first. Were their previous customers satisfied? How quickly did they ship? If they have an excellent rating, then it’s probably safe to order. If not, take a pass.

Whatever you do, don’t wake up with a credit-inspired headache this January. There’s no harm in making your holiday gifts instead of buying them, or better yet, make memories instead.

Brooke Kaelin is the Daily Deals Editor of Wise Bread, a blog dedicated to helping readers live large on a small budget. Wise Bread's book, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, debuted as the #1 Money Management book on Amazon.com.


Corrected on 12/15/10: An earlier version of this story misspelled JC Penney’s name.