Retail News: Introducing No-Minimum-Purchase, No-Membership-Fees, No-Catches Totally Free Shipping

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During last year’s Christmas season, several major retailer introduced simple and easy free shipping promotions, with no minimum purchase or annoying coupon code required. While these promos were short-term and have since disappeared, consumers have come to expect—demand, really—free shipping, and I’m not the only one wondering when free shipping will be standard among big retailers, no strings attached. Well, that day has come for one retailer—and perhaps others that’ll follow its lead.

The retailer is L.L. Bean, which just introduced entirely free shipping on all orders to the U.S. and Canada. No coupon codes needed. No minimum purchase requirements. No end date. All orders are free for deliveries shipped to arrive within two to five days of purchase.

We’ve seen the rise of other “free” shipping policies among retailers, but there always seemed to be some fee or catch—and so they aren’t entirely free. Amazon rolled out its enormously popular Amazon Prime program, in which members paid $79 annually for “free” shipping. Beyond the membership fees, what Prime has really done is help Amazon to stop customers from shopping anywhere else.

More recently, Walmart expanded its ship-to-store service, in which items purchased online will be ready for pickup at a Walmart location a few hours later. What’s the catch here? For one thing, the order doesn’t come to you. For another, once you’re forced to leave the couch and enter a Walmart store, you’re bound to buy more stuff. That’s what Walmart hopes for anyway.

The point is: Neither Amazon Prime, nor ShopRunner (another membership program charging a fee for free shipping), nor Walmart offer customers shipping that is not only free, but also hassle-free, in the same way that L.L. Bean now does. Shoe seller Zappos, which has helped transformed the online retail space with outstanding customer service, is one of the very few companies offering free shipping on all orders and returns.

So why is L.L. Bean being so generous? The move separates it from the pack, and should certainly result in more orders being placed. It’s been demonstrated that consumers respond well—often irrationally so—to the concept of free shipping. In one study, consumers were far more likely to pay $5 for an item with free shipping than they were to but the same item for $2.50 if it cost $2.50 to ship it.

Is L.L. Bean’s new policy all that amazing? Of course not. It’ll save customers a few bucks, at most. Free shipping is already fairly common, especially if you’re a regular at sites such as RetailMeNot, which lists coupon codes for hundreds of retailers—and often, these codes includes discounts as well as free shipping. FreeShipping.org, unsurprisingly, is another resource for customers searching coupon codes to avoid shipping costs on Internet orders.

What L.L. Bean’s change does is eliminate the need to have to hunt and peck for these free shipping offers. Customers will like that this saves them time and aggravation, and for obvious reasons, L.L. Bean likes removing any hurdle that causes a customer to pause before proceeding to checkout.

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