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Free Shipping Day: The deals and the gimmicks

Friday, December 16, is Free Shipping Day, where online merchants offer free shipping and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. Here are some of the best deals.

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Robert Cozart, left, and David Sanchez unload packages at the FedEx hub at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. Today is Free Shipping Day, and thousands of online retailers are offering free shipping guaranteed in time for Christmas Eve. Now in its fourth year, Free Shipping day is set to surpass Cyber Monday as the biggest online shopping day of the year.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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Still have some online shopping to do, but afraid your gifts won’t make it in time for Christmas? Never fear: there’s still time, and one last promotional shopping holiday to help you squeak by.

That’s because Friday is Free Shipping Day. Online merchants big and small are offering free shipping, with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. Since its creation in 2008 by Luke and Maisie Knowles, Free Shipping Day has grown exponentially: In 2009, 750 merchants participated in the holiday. Last year, 1,700 merchants were involved, and online shoppers spent $942 million, making it the third largest shopping day of the 2010 holiday season, This year, somewhere between 2,300 and 2,500 retailers are expected to join the fun.

“Free Shipping day is anticipated to be the biggest online shopping day of the year,” says Charlie Graham, founder and CEO of the apparel deal site Shop It To Me. “It could be bigger than Cyber Monday. Because for shoppers, the price of shipping is a barrier. And retailers want to capitalize on the big days.”

In 2010,  Mr.Graham adds, Free Shipping Day was already a bigger online shopping day than Black Friday, and it was close to Cyber Monday numbers.

It can seem like one more holiday ad campaign in a sea of gimmicks, but a few things distinguish Free Shipping Day from the others. For one, outside of the free shipping, many stores are offering decent sales on certain items, particularly clothing. At JCrew, for instance, you can get free shipping on all orders and 30 percent off everything in the store; Ann Taylor boasts free shipping and 40 percent off your entire order. Fossil, which sells apparel, watches, and leather goods, is offering free overnight shipping on all orders over $100.

Second, Free Shipping Day has been a great boon to smaller online merchants, which tend to get lost in the Amazon-dominated shuffle of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Even vendors on the independent marketplace site Etsy have reported an uptick in sales on Free Shipping Day. But according to Graham, that boost for smaller vendors is fading as the holiday grows.

“In the past, it might have benefited them more because it was less mainstream. But now big retailers are really participating. And the downside is that the smaller players may get pushed out.”

But, he adds, “the best thing they can do is participate, without thresholds [minimum qualifying purchases].”

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That’s not to say that all Free Shipping Day deals are worth the click. Several retailers have a hefty minimum purchase amount to qualify for free shipping, something that is often policy anyway. Walmart, for instance, is offering free shipping only on select purchases of $45 or more.

Furthermore, discounts on online items today may not be as generous as they are other days leading up to Christmas.  “As the season goes on, stores have to get rid of their inventory, but on Free Shipping Day vendors turn off their discounts to pay for the shipping.,” Graham says. “You’re not going to get the best discounts today. But if you were going to buy something but were prevented by the shipping costs, today is the day to do it.”

He adds that Free Shipping Day tends to fall on or around Dec. 16, because it’s the last free day that retailers can guarantee free or regularly priced shipping on gifts before Christmas.

If you are planning on some last-minute shopping, here are a few of the best offers from the biggest retailers, without caveats:

Overstock.com: Free shipping on orders of any size

Best Buy: The electronics giant has been a winner this holiday shopping season, trouncing the competition in big electronics pricing on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Continuing that tradition, they are offering free shipping on all non-marketplace inventory.

Microsoft Store: Free shipping on all orders.

Gap: Free shipping plus 20 percent off your entire order.

LeapFrog: Free shipping on all orders. The LeapFrog LeapPad learning tablets are a popular toy for kids this year, so this is good news for parents.

Apple Store: Free shipping on all purchases.

Saks: Free shipping, returns, and gift boxes

Zappos.com: Free shipping on everything, including an unmatched shoe selection.

Amazon: Free shipping on orders over $25; guaranteed to arrive by Christmas eve.

Barney’s New York: Free shipping and free gift wrapping on all orders.

Abercrombie and Fitch: Free shipping and 40 percent off your entire order.

Looking for a particular store? Go to freeshippingday.com and see if its participating.


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