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Is Free Shipping Really Free?
by Chris Malone,posted Dec 3 2012 5:22AM
Nothing captures our attention more than the word free. Then add the word shipping next to it and the deal sounds too good to be true...right? Many times free shipping isn't so free. Time to take a look at free shipping from the major retailers.
One of the newest promotions involves retailer-specific credit cards. Amazon.com’s Amazon Prime, for example, provides free, two-day shipping, along with a number of other perks, such as unlimited streaming video.
But here’s the catch: The card’s annual fee is $79, which means you’d have to make at least 20 separate Amazon orders in a year for the card to pay for itself (assuming you don’t take advantage of the other benefits the card includes). Other retailers, such as Target and Sears, offer similar proprietary credit cards that come with free-shipping options, but they also charge hefty annual fees. Not to mention if you carry a balance, the higher internet rate may offset any shipping savings.
The Fine Print
Retailer-specific credit cards aren’t the only way to score free shipping; many online merchants offer other options. However, there are a handful of restrictions you should be aware of before placing your order.
Most free-shipping offers require a minimum purchase amount, which generally means we'll spend more than we might have in the first place; and some items may not qualify toward that total. Here’s a breakdown of some popular retailers’ minimum purchase amounts and their restrictions on free shipping.
Amazon.com: Minimum purchase: $25 on items labeled “FREE Super Saver Shipping.” If some of your items qualify but your order also contains ineligible items, Amazon will charge shipping fees for the ineligible items. Free shipping excludes certain oversized orders and is not available to residents of Alaska and Hawaii.
Walmart: Minimum purchase: $45 on eligible orders. Walmart also offers an option to ship items free to your local Walmart location, which saves on shipping but that doesn’t save you a trip to the store.
Target: Minimum purchase: $50 on qualifying purchases. Free shipping is limited to delivery inside the contiguous U.S. However, if you qualify for a REDcard debit card, which essentially works like your bank's debit card and deducts Target purchases from your checking account, or use the Target credit card, then shipping is free.
Overstock.com: Minimum purchase: $.01. Free shipping excludes all books, movies, music and games, and is only available in the contiguous U.S.
Sears/Kmart: Minimum purchase: $59 on qualifying items. Free shipping excludes items that weigh more than 150 pounds, most of which are classified under “delivery” rather than shipping.
Zappos.com: Minimum purchase: $0.01. Free shipping is limited to the U.S.
Nordstrom: Minimum purchase: $0.01. Free shipping is not available for “Nordstrom Rack” orders or on international orders.
Macy's: Minimum purchase $99. Free shipping does not include in-store purchases, furniture or mattresses.
JC Penney's: Minimum purchase: $50. Shipments to stores is free.
So you’ve read the fine print, and your order qualifies for free shipping. You’re getting a great deal, right? Maybe. But it’s also possible that the retailer is making up for the cost of shipping elsewhere. Are online merchants boosting online prices to pay for the shipping promotions?
The good news is the major retails prices are generally the same online as they are in their brick & motor stores. In fact, some stores, like Target and Walmart feature some items that are cheaper online. Keep in mind, Florida requires sales tax to be paid on Internet sales.
The Bottom Line
There are many reasons to shop online, and free shipping is certainly an added bonus. Retailers have to turn a profit, and they can often take advantage of consumers’ hunger for a deal. But by reading the fine print and learning about restrictions before placing an order, online shoppers can make sure “free shipping” is, indeed, free.