‘Tis the Season for Procrastinating Shoppers: Free Shipping Available Closer to Christmas

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Free Shipping Day takes place this Friday, December 16. On that day, more than 2,000 e-retailers (and counting) will offer free shipping for some or all purchases. But before and after Free Shipping Day, guess what’s readily available to online shoppers? Yep, free shipping. And this year, free shipping that’s guaranteed to arrive by December 24 is possible later than ever.

How late? Amazon said the last day for its “Super Saver Shipping” (free for orders of at least $25) would be extended to Monday, December 19. Amazon Prime members—most of who pay $79 annually for the service—get free two-day shipping, and all orders placed by December 21 are guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve. And get this special deal for the most serious procrastinators: Prime members in a few cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York, and Seattle, can get same-day delivery for orders placed on December 24 for $3.99.

Amazon is hardly alone in offering free shipping late in the game. L.L. Bean offers free shipping on all orders, and those made by December 21 are guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve. Walmart recently extended its deadline for standard free shipping: Place an order by 11:30 p.m. on December 20, and it’ll be delivered by December 24. Jewelry seller BlueNile offers free shipping on most orders placed by December 22, and priority overnight shipping is free for purchases of over $500. Shipping is always free at Zappos, and free overnight delivery is an option as late as December 23.

(MORE: Attention Online Shoppers: No Reason to Pay for Shipping This Holiday Season)

With all of these free shipping offers, and with 9 in 10 retailers offering free shipping at some point during the holiday season, what’s the point of something like Free Shipping Day? Some think there is no point. In a conversation with USA Today, Brad Wilson, of BradsDeals.com declared that Free Shipping Day was “an irrelevant hoax.”

Even with free shipping offers seemingly everywhere, it’s wise to avoid pressing your luck and placing an order at the very last minute. Why? For one thing, shoppers rarely factor in for “processing time.” An order purchased with two-day free shipping won’t necessarily arrive two days after the order was placed—because of the time it takes for the retailer to process and ready it for shipping.

Jordy Leiser, co-founder of StellaService, a customer service rating site, elaborated in a SmartMoney post:

Many stores allow themselves another day or two to process orders, so be sure to check the estimated delivery time frame in your online cart before confirming a purchase, he says. Not every store has 24/7 operations, either, so someone placing an order after 5 p.m. on a weekday or any time on a weekend may not see their order status change until the next business day.

(MORE: One-Quarter of Extreme Couponers Have Incomes of $75,000 or More)

Dealnews also offers advice for last-minute online shoppers. Specifically, the site says shoppers should steer clear of retailers that tend to take extra long with “processing time,” such as Best Buy, Kohl’s, and J.C. Penney.

Sometimes, though, there’s good (or at least justifiable) reason for waiting until the last minute to buy something for the holidays—say, for example, if what you’re buying is food. Sure, most food ordered online doesn’t have to be consumed the moment it arrives. But it is perishable. And I think most people would prefer the idea of food that hadn’t been sitting in freezers or wrapped under plastic for months.

A BusinessWeek story notes that in terms of ordering food from popular e-merchants like Omaha Steaks and Zingerman’s Mail Order, “the peak day creeps closer to the 25th each year.”

(MORE: Is Amazon Due for a Backlash Because of Its ‘Evil’ Price Check App?)

Zingerman’s, in fact, does an astounding one-quarter of its annual business during the seven days before Christmas. Zingerman’s doesn’t do free shipping, though, opting for a flat $9.99 rate, and orders will arrive within five business days.

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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