The phrase “free shipping” is a siren song to many online shoppers. For whatever reason, a “free shipping “coupon that saves shoppers $6.99 can be more appealing than a “$10 discount.” There’s something about the word “free” that’s oh-so appealing. With a touch of know-how and research, however, you can take full advantage of the “free” in free shipping.
As free or nearly-free offers become more commonplace, it really pays to know your stuff. More than half of online merchants offered free shipping without conditions during the 2009 holiday season. Four out of five offered free-shipping deals with some conditions (i.e. a minimum purchase or for specific products only). That’s a lot of money saved. (Of course, the popularity of Free Shipping Day didn’t hurt.)
Merchants make these offers because research has shown studies show free shipping deals score big points with shoppers. Shipping costs play a primary role in consumers’ choice of e-retailers. Surprisingly, it also greatly impacts customer satisfaction. As a result, footing shipping bills can result in thousands, if not millions of dollars in new sales for e-retailers.
This trend has led to many major merchants offering some sort of shipping discount. Here are nine tips to help you get the most out of free shipping coupons:
1. Check Customer Reviews
Hear the truth from the horse’s mouth. How did the shipping process go? Was the product of good quality? Did it get ruined in transit? By and large, customer comments and reviews serve as an excellent guide. Remember, however, you’ll always find a small percentage of customers who are never happy or simply like to blame others for their mistakes. If an eBay seller has a 95-percent positive rating, you can likely ignore the small percentage who gave them a thumbs down.
2. Bundle Purchases
More merchants are moving towards requiring a minimum purchase before a free shipping deal kicks in. These policies naturally tend to increase the total amount shoppers spend per visit. Consider waiting until you have several products to order that will fulfill the minimum required.
3. Nearly-Free Shipping Deals
Some merchants offer a fixed-rate shipping and handling fee, no matter the actual shipping cost. This encourages larger orders but can also prove to be valuable when you’re purchasing heavier items. In these cases, like I suggested earlier, you’ll get the most out of a “fixed-rate” shipping fee if you wait until there are number of different items you need to purchase (especially if you find there are no heavy items you need). This way you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
4. Research the Shipping Agent
Some merchants outsource their shipping so it makes sense to also check the record of the actual shipping company. Ask the merchant if they honor delivery guarantees or if the outsourcing company is responsible.
5. Track Your Shipping
Reputable merchants offer some form of tracking system so consumers know when they’re package will arrive and how it’s being shipped. Keep an eye on the progress of your purchase and contact the merchant if you experience any irregularity.
6. Who Pays for Return Shipping
If the shoe fits, wear it. But what if it doesn’t? While outbound shipping may be free, some merchants require customers pay return shipping costs. Among the 850-plus stores tracked by FreeShipping.org, a surprising number always or occasionally offer free return shipping. For example, UniqueHomeStore always offers free shipping and returns. (Also look for re-stocking fees on returns.)
7. Handling Fees
Some stores may advertise free shipping and then tack on a handling fee. Review your shopping cart for such charges before completing your purchase. The majority of handling fees tend to apply to furniture and other large shipments.
8. Use uShip For Large Items
uShip is an online shipping marketplace that connects customers with transportation service providers. Essentially, uShip operates as a free online auction where you create an account, post your shipment details and let service providers bid for the privilege to ship your purchase. Creating an account and listing takes no more than 10 minutes and you can request email, phone or text alerts to keep an eye on bidding.
9. When Free Isn’t Free
Some merchants offer free shipping then kick up their prices to cover the expense. That’s not to say this is a crooked practice. Packaging, credit-card processing, shopping-cart fees and the actual delivery cost a pretty penny, so it’s understandable e-retailers want to recoup some of this investment. Make sure free-shipping offers are really free by comparing prices between at least three merchants before finalizing your purchase.