Free Shipping Day may be every day
If you're feeling as overwhelmed by holiday shopping as I am, then you're probably thanking the online-shopping industry for the gift to procrastinators that is Free Shipping Day.
As my colleague Ylan Mui explains, this joint promotion -- in which 735 online retailers are touting free delivery by Christmas Eve -- is also meant to goose otherwise sluggish sales. A look over the Free Shipping Day home page also reveals that many of these merchants impose minimum-order requirements or offer free shipping only on a subset of their inventory.
But that doesn't mean you can't benefit from the gesture -- or that you can't expect more offers like it in the future. This may just be my own experience, but free-delivery options seem almost as easy to find as they were near the peak of the dot-com craziness of the late 1990s. Sometimes I've had to look up the right coupon code (thanks, RetailMeNot!) to get shipping charges waived, but on other occasions it's been a standard feature, even on items as bulky as desktop computers and flat-panel televisions.
This delivery also often turns out to be almost as fast as pricey express-shipping options -- something I remarked on last December and have been noticing throughout the year. It was impressive enough to see J&R Electronics deliver an LCD TV via no-charge UPS ground in only four days this summer, but much more so to see Apple get a new computer from Shanghai to my home in the same time (when a FedEx tracking page covers that much distance, it really ought to illustrate the package's progress with a moving red line on a map).
This free, fast delivery isn't really free -- somebody pays, somewhere (noticed Apple's profit margins lately?). But if a retailer's business model lets it spread out that cost among other items and other customers -- for example, by charging a lot more for shipping an item that absolutely, positively has to be there overnight -- that's not necessarily bad.
Delivery delays and outright screw-ups are always possible -- one reader recently e-mailed to complain about how Dell says he won't get the computer he ordered in mid-November until a few days before Christmas -- but my sense is that the retail industry has been doing a good job overall with shipments, free or otherwise. How about you? How quickly have you been getting your holiday purchases, and how much has shipping cost on them?
December 17, 2009; 12:10 PM ET
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