NEW YORK — There was a time when free shipping was a rare deal. This holiday season, you might feel it's your right as a paying customer.
With so many discounts up for grabs online, a hefty shipping charge at checkout can be an unwelcome surprise. You might even be annoyed enough to cancel the order and look for a better deal elsewhere. Your chances of succeeding wouldn't be half bad.
If you can't bear the thought of paying for delivery, here's how to get around it.
FreeShipping.org lists about 1,900 stores (and counting) that offer delivery deals. Minimum purchase requirements, coupon codes and expiration dates are noted when applicable.
If you're scrolling through the site and spot an offer that ends soon, don't feel rushed into buying. Free shipping is becoming an increasingly popular way to drive sales. So even after one promotion ends, another could be around the corner, said Luke Knowles, the founder of FreeShipping.org.
Dec. 17 is also the site's second annual Free Shipping Day. Participating retailers guarantee that purchases made on that day will be delivered by Dec. 24. The idea is to keep people shopping online in mid December, when some worry it's too late place orders for Christmas.
A recent check of FreeShippingDay.com showed 449 retailers signed up, including Anne Klein, Kmart, Macy's and Sephora.
Another site, Istobe.com, lists about 500 retailers, whether they offer free shipping and how much you need to spend to qualify for free shipping. You can find the list at istobe.com/free-shipping.html.
The most direct way to learn about free shipping deals is to sign up for e-mail alerts on a retailer's Web site. This is a good route if you're a fan of a certain store and want to stay on top of other promotions it runs.
Before you leap at a free shipping offer, check the policy on returns. You may have to pay to mail back unwanted items. If it's an exchange, you might need to foot the bill for shipping on the new item, too.
Some sites, such as online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos.com, offer free returns. All you have to do is print a return label, stick it on the box, and drop it into the mail. You get a year at Zappos to return items, but most stores generally have shorter policies.
You can usually return items bought online at a local store, too. Just be sure to bring along the receipt that was included with the order.
As the holidays draw closer, some retailers may offer free expedited shipping. But in general, free shipping usually applies to the standard delivery method. It varies by retailer, but that means it could take as many as 10 days to get your order.
There are also times when buying online — and paying a shipping charge — is smarter than buying from a nearby store. This could be the case if it's a gift you plan to mail anyway. Go to usps.com for an estimate of what it would cost to mail the item yourself; it might turn out that the store's shipping fee is a bargain.