Attention Online Shoppers: No Reason to Pay for Shipping this Holiday Season

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Last year, retailers resorted not only to the usual price wars to keep up with the competition, but battled it out with competing free shipping offers on holiday season purchases. Consumers can expect more free shipping promotions in the months to come: More than nine in ten online retailers say that they’ll offer complimentary shipping on purchases during the holiday shopping season.

In mid-December of 2010, during what was then the busiest week for e-retail ever, more than half of online purchases came with free shipping: 52.7%, compared to 40.6% of orders during the corresponding week in 2009. The opportunity for shoppers to get their goods delivered for free only seems to be increasing.

In a National Retail Federation survey released this week, 92.5% of online retailers say they plan on offering free shipping at some point during the holiday season. When asked the same question in 2010, 84.8% of retailers said they’d be rolling out free-shipping promotions. Nearly one-third (31.4%) of retailers say they’ll be introducing free-shipping deals earlier in the season compared to last year, too.

(MORE: Shocker! The Rich Expected to Go on Big Shopping Sprees this Holiday Season)

All of which should serve as a reminder to consumers that there’s not much reason to pay for shipping nowadays. If free shipping isn’t available from one store, it’s wise to check with a competitor, search for free-shipping promotional codes, or just wait until a free shipping offer appears.

Bear in mind that not all free shipping offers are created alike, however. The best policies come from retailers such as Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, and Zappos, which offer free shipping year-round and with no minimum-purchase requirement. Free return shipping is typically available as well.

Best Buy just announced it’ll offer free shipping, with no minimum purchase required, for all online purchases made from November 1 to December 27.

The companies telling the NRF that they’ll offer free shipping may not be quite as generous. Walmart, for instance, just launched a free shipping option for most items sold—but only for orders over $45. Likewise, a holiday promotion from Sears and Kmart offers free shipping from October 30 to December 19, but only for online purchases of $99 and up at Sears, or $49 at Kmart. That’s nice, but not as nice as if shipping was free on all orders, regardless of how much is being spent.

(MORE: Christmas Price Guarantee: Walmart’s New Move to Reel in Holiday Shoppers)

But considering the trend has been for more and more free no-strings-attached shipping—especially during the holiday season—it’s a good bet that more generous free shipping offers will soon be popping up left and right.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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