Q&A with Free Shipping Day Founder Luke Knowles

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Man, they really pack these made-up holidays together: National Regifting Day yesterday, and now Free Shipping Day today, Friday, December 17, 2010. Luke Knowles created the faux holiday two years ago and has watched it grow like crazy, with more than 1,500 retailers participating—i.e., offering free shipping, and a guarantee items will arrive by December 24—for orders placed today.

According to a Unicast poll 37% of consumers plan on shopping online today in order to avoid shipping fees. In the Q&A posted below, Knowles discusses the power of free shipping, the disappearance of requirements for free shipping, and where he sees free shipping headed. Think: more and more free shipping, and not only for one day.

Tell me about the growth of participating retailers in Free Shipping Day: What kinds of companies are in that haven’t been in the past?
Luke Knowles: The number of merchants participating in Free Shipping Day has increased quite a bit year to year. Last year 750 merchants participated, which was up from 250 the year before. This year we were hoping to have over 1,000 merchants participate, but we’ve passed that by far. Part of this is due to the fact that we’ve seen a large increase in smaller merchants that sell unique one-of-a-kind items. For example, more than 40 Etsy stores will be participating this year.

We also have a category with 15+ merchants that will ship free to Canadian residents with delivery by Christmas Eve. On that note, there is also be a Free Shipping Day in Poland (see this story) and the Netherlands (gratisbezorging.nl) this year, so it’s certainly an idea that’s catching on.

Have you noticed changes in the restrictions regarding exactly how and when retailers offer free shipping? Have the minimum $ requirements tended to rise or fall, or disappear entirely?
LK: I see a trend of free shipping offers around the holidays having a lower threshold than they have in years past. For Free Shipping Day we are seeing more merchants offering free shipping on ALL orders. So far 60% of participating merchants will have free shipping with no minimum purchase requirements on December 17.

Which retailers have the most generous free shipping policies, not only on Free Shipping Day but throughout the season?
LK: Right now, the best free shipping offers during the holidays are from Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer and Overstock.com who have regular free shipping on all order offers. Many shoe stores like Nine West, Piperlime, Zappos and Shoes.com also have free shipping on everything. Shoppers can see a list of merchants that have free shipping with no minimum purchase here.

How do you think that services such as Amazon Prime, which gives “free” two-day shipping for members paying an annual fee (and which thereby gets some consumers to stop shopping anywhere else), will affect how retailers charge (or don’t charge) for shipping down the line?
LK: Amazon Prime has already had a direct impact on how larger merchants charge for shipping. Companies like Sears, Borders, Barnes & Noble and Overstock.com have followed Amazon’s lead by creating free shipping clubs. The shipping policies of small to medium sized retailers should not be affected by Prime as most aren’t large enough to create a free shipping club that would be appealing to shoppers.

Some people envision a time when, more often than not, online orders will come with free shipping. Do you see that as a real possibility? Or do you think things will stay pretty much as they are, with free shipping available fairly often, but generally only via special short-time promotions and discount coupon codes?
LK: It really depends on the type of products you are buying. Some categories like books, jewelry and shoes have free shipping more often than not, while other categories like furniture and electronics have occasional free shipping offers that are short-lived and have a minimum purchase requirement. I think that the trend we’re in now is what we’re going to see for the next couple years.

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