The big news today in online holiday shopping is that Walmart is offering totally free shipping—no minimum purchase requirements whatsoever—for thousands of items purchased at its website, including plenty of toys, electronics, and other popular gifts. It’s not even Thanksgiving, and the retail giant is throwing its weight around, throwing down the gauntlet, and otherwise throwing everything it’s got at the competition for holiday shopper dollars. But while Walmart is the biggest, it’s hardly the only retailer with no-minimum-purchase free shipping.
Weeks ago, L.L. Bean announced it would offer free shipping on all orders placed by December 20, which is also the same order-by deadline for free shipping with Walmart. Other retailers periodically drop their usual minimum purchase requirements for free shipping: American Eagle, for instance, has a promotion right now granting no-minimum-purchase free shipping on orders placed by November 14.
More and more, it seems, consumers can expect to get free shipping, no strings, catches, or minimums attached, in one way or another. Is free shipping all that big a deal? Well, I’d say yes, it’s a pretty big deal so long as you’re a diligent shopper and there’s no minimum purchase required. When there is a minimum, shoppers inevitably buy stuff they otherwise wouldn’t have—either to reach the minimum purchase threshold, or by adding a few extra items into their virtual shopping carts to take advantage of the free shipping while they can get it. In this way, consumers convince themselves they’re saving money when in fact, they’re spending way more than they’d planned. “But the shipping was free!” the thinking goes.
In one of those weird revelatory consumer experiments (read more in the link above), people were shown to be far more likely to buy a $5 item that came with free shipping than they were to buy the same item for $2.50 and another $2.50 for shipping. There has also been a rise in membership plans offering free shipping for subscribers who pay $79 annually to Amazon or a joint venture between retailers like Toys R Us and Radio Shack. Call me crazy, but something seems off about paying $79 in order to get something for free.
The point is: Free shipping, and the concept of freebies in general, can make consumers do some odd and irrational things. Be aware of this before you pile on the credit card debt related to “free” offers.
In any event, straightforward no-minimum free shipping offers are way better than minimum-purchase required free shipping offers. The easiest way to figure out where and how to get free shipping is by going (where else) to freeshipping.org, which recently created a special page listing free shipping on all orders, some of which require special coupon codes, but none of which require a minimum purchase.