This is a hectic week for holiday shipping, with Dec. 15 kicking off the busiest day for FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service as consumers scramble to ship holiday gifts and cards to loved ones in time for Christmas. What’s more, people are still shopping online and looking for digital deals to help them finish up their gift lists before Santa makes his annual journey.
While free shipping offers seem plentiful this holiday season, many come with the caveat of a minimum order requirement. In fact, retailers know most shoppers will add more to their online carts to avoid delivery charges, and stores like Amazon and Best Buy upped their minimum order thresholds last year as a result.
Here are 8 savvy tips to combat shipping shock this holiday season
Hack shipping services
Shipping services like ShopRunner and Amazon Prime represent a great value for serial online shoppers, but what if we just need their perks for the holiday season? Signing up for a free trial of these services is a great way to score free expedited shipping without having to pay the annual fee. Just be sure to cancel your free trial before you’re automatically enrolled in the program.
Use price matching to dodge delivery fees
You can use price-matching to score free shipping, but it takes a little research and a splash of gumption. If a product you’re looking to buy is priced better on a site that charges delivery fees, open a live chat with an e-retailer that sells the same product with free shipping and ask for a price match. I did this to score a great deal on a dress from Piperlime which was better priced at a competitor who charged shipping costs.
Collect the codes
Like many online offers, free shipping can be achieved with a coupon code. Some retailers post these codes on their homepages, but sometimes they’re not so easy to find. Sign up for the retailer’s newsletter for updates on free shipping offers (and an introductory coupon), and follow them on social media for access to special offers. You can also search for codes using sites like FreeShipping.org, which collects free shipping and online discount codes to help shoppers save money online.
Shop Free Shipping Day
Rounding out the busiest shopping week of the year is Free Shipping Day, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 18. Like last year, event organizers are requiring participating stores to waive all minimum order requirements, which means you can order a $6 pair of socks and still dodge delivery fees. Check FreeShippingDay.com for a list of offers and codes, and make sure to get your orders in before the event closes at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 18.
Compromise and drive
One of the main perks of shopping online is getting your orders delivered to your doorstep. However, shipping costs make this benefit a little less attractive. See if the store you’re ordering from offers a free ship-to-store option. While you’ll have to drive to the store and pick it up yourself, many times your order is ready within an hour or so, making it a quicker process than shopping online. For example, shoppers can pick up Kmart.com orders at any local Sears or Kmart store – more than 2,000 locations nationwide, including same-day pickup and curbside pickup, ready in five minutes or less. Sears makes in-store especially easy this year with their free In-Vehicle pick up option.
Simply select curbside pick-up at check out, provide your vehicle information and then download the Shop Your Way app to alert the sales associate of your arrival and your goods will be delivered right to your car. Not only is this a convenient and time-saving option, but this will also help you avoid last-minute impulse buys that may otherwise tempt you if you went into the store to gather your online order.
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Eliminate the middle man
Having gifts shipped to you only to turn around and ship them somewhere else for an added cost is an unnecessary move. Instead, ship gifts directly to the recipient to avoid the process and expense of repackaging and re-shipping. This often means recipients will miss out on pretty gift wrap, unless you opt to have the store wrap it for a small fee. If you simply can’t avoid paying the middleman tax, be sure to compare rates between shipping companies: USPS may have more competitive rates than UPS and FedEx, as Consumer Reports recently found.
Don’t miss the deadlines
While shipping companies have set deadlines for standard, expedited and next-day shipping, retail deadlines vary across the board. Some standard shipping cutoffs are already passed while others are as late as Dec. 20. You can find shipping deadlines on retail homepages, but some are buried or not easily accessible, so it’s better to view them all in one helpful list. Make note of specific cutoff times on these deadlines, too; some retailers require orders be placed by a certain time that day to qualify for the rate and delivery schedule.
Read up on return shipping.
Getting your item delivered in time for Christmas may be your singular goal right now, but you have to think ahead. If your recipient doesn’t end up liking the gift or needs to exchange it, will he or she be charged return shipping fees? Is the item subject to restocking fees? Can the recipient exchange or return the item to a local store? Have all these questions answered before you click “purchase” to ensure you’re not setting yourself up for a future headache.