Whether you’re buying a gift or treating yourself, use our tips to score free delivery and returns.
• Loyalty pays. Register for your favorite retailer’s email newsletter. The newsletter may give you access to members-only codes for free shipping. It can also pay to do all or most of your holiday shopping at a single store; many retailers set a minimum dollar amount for free shipping. Store credit cards, such as Target’s REDcard and the Gap’s Silver Card, offer free shipping on all purchases made online.
• Membership? Not so much. Some sites will enroll you in a free-shipping program – for a fee. For example, pay $79 per year for Amazon.com Prime and you’re guaranteed free two-day shipping. The downside is that you’ll need to shop frequently at Amazon to make up for the membership cost (and orders over $25 are entitled to free shipping anyway).
• Get the best price. Free shipping may be offset by a higher price. To find out whether the item you’re eyeing is available for less elsewhere even if you have to pay for shipping, compare its price among different websites. You can find a tool that factors shipping into the bottom-line price at PriceGrabber.com.
• Think small. Don’t expect free shipping for your next 20-pound bag of dog food. Your best bets are shoes, clothes, books and light items, such as jewelry. Two reasons: First, retailers know that stilettos and dress shirts don’t always fit and that they’ll lose online customers if they charge $10 for the privilege of trying something on. Second, when massive retailers, such as Amazon and Zappos, offer free shipping, their competitors have reason to follow suit.
• It pays to procrastinate. Look for retailers to combine free delivery with other last-minute offers, such as 30 percent off your entire purchase. And mark Dec. 17 on your calendar: It’s Free Shipping Day at FreeShipping.org, with coupon codes from more than a thousand merchants and delivery guaranteed by Christmas Eve.
• Make your minivan a delivery truck. Companies such as Ace Hardware and Walmart will ship items you order from their websites to their brick-and-mortar stores gratis. The deal may also work in reverse. If a retailer doesn’t offer free return shipping, see whether you can return your item to a store. Be sure to act fast even if a package comes with a return label. Shopbop charges $10 if a return arrives more than 15 days after you received the item. And, just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, many e-tailers will stop providing full refunds after 30 or 60 days and instead offer store credit.Susannah Snider is a staff writer at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit www.Kiplinger.com.