1. Loyalty pays.
Register for your favorite retailer's e-mail newsletter and you
could reap the benefits of your devotion. The newsletter may give
you access to members-only codes for free shipping, says Sara
Tetreault, of frugal-living blog
. In past years, Lands' End and Nike have offered shipping deals
around the holidays. Tetreault also recommends doing all or most of
your holiday shopping at a single store. Many retailers set a
minimum dollar amount for free shipping -- for example, J. Crew
requires an order of $175. Store credit cards may also reward your
fidelity. Target's REDcard and the Gap's Silver Card offer free
shipping on all purchases made online.
2. Membership? Not so much.
Some sites will enroll you in a free-shipping program -- for a fee.
For example, pay $79 per year for Amazon.com Prime and you're
guaranteed free two-day shipping. The downside is that you'll need
to shop frequently at Amazon to make up for the membership cost
(and orders over $25 are entitled to free shipping anyway). Look at
your purchase history for the past year to decide whether such a
program works for you.
3. Get the best price.
Free shipping may be offset by a higher price. To find out whether
the item you're eyeing is available for less elsewhere even if you
have to pay for shipping, compare its price among different Web
sites. You can find a tool that factors shipping into the
bottom-line price at
4. Think small.
Don't expect free shipping for your next 20-pound bag of dog food.
Your best bets are shoes, clothes, books and light items, such as
jewelry. Two reasons: First, retailers know that stilettos and
dress shirts don't always fit and that they'll lose online
customers if they charge $10 for the privilege of trying something
on. Second, when massive retailers, such as Amazon and Zappos,
offer free shipping, their competitors have reason to follow
5. It pays to procrastinate.
As the holidays near, online stores will do their best to lure you
away from the malls and back to your desktop. Look for retailers to
combine free delivery with other last-minute offers, such as 30%
off your entire purchase. And mark December 17 on your calendar:
It's Free Shipping Day at
, with coupon codes from more than a thousand merchants and
delivery guaranteed by Christmas Eve. You can search
FreeShipping.org year-round for coupon codes and free-delivery
offers as well.
6. Make your minivan a delivery truck.
Companies such as Ace Hardware and Walmart will ship items you
order from their Web sites to their brick-and-mortar stores gratis.
The deal may also work in reverse. If a retailer doesn't offer free
return shipping, see whether you can return your item to a store.
For example, L.L. Bean charges $6.50 if you return an item by mail;
if you schlep it to the mall, you avoid the fee. Be sure to act
fast even if the package comes with a return label. Shopbop charges
$10 if a return arrives more than 15 days after you received the
item. And, just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, many
e-tailers will stop providing full refunds after 30 or 60 days and
instead offer store credit.
This article first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance
magazine. For more help with your personal finances and
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. It might be the best investment you ever make.