Skip the LinesPeople who headed down to their local electronics or department store on Thursday, pitched a tent and camped out until Friday morning probably scored some great deals on electronics, clothes and other popular gift items.
On the other hand, people who enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal and then plopped down on the couch with a laptop can still get many of the same deals without ever having to wait out in the cold.
Black Friday deals are increasingly finding their way online, either on Friday itself or on Cyber Monday. And while the true doorbuster deals are reserved for the hardcore shoppers camped out in the parking lot, people who skip the lines and shop online can also get great deals on gifts. Of course, there are two big caveats with online shopping: the shipping costs and return policies.
After all, if you buy something at a bricks-and-mortar retailer and don’t like it, you can generally just bring it back with the receipt and get the full purchase price back. But if you buy something online and don’t like what arrives in the mail, you may have to pay to ship it back yourself, and chances are the initial shipping fee won’t be refunded. That makes online shopping a risky proposition – especially if you’re buying clothes and shoes, which you obviously can’t try on beforehand to see if they fit.
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Risk-Free Retail: Shoes and BeyondFortunately, online retailers are starting to wake up to the fact that shipping costs give pause to a lot of shoppers, and an increasing number are now offering free shipping both ways. That means that if you don’t like what arrives in the mail, you can return it and get back 100% of anything you paid.
Not surprisingly, it started with online shoe retailers, says Luke Knowles of FreeShipping.org, which tracks the shipping policies of online retailers. After all, nobody is going to buy a pair of shoes online if they know they’ll be out $10 or more when it turns out they don’t fit.
“You really notice it in shoes and clothing,” Knowles says. “They’re trying to compete with the shoe stores, and they probably couldn’t make the sale without it.”
Knowles expects the trend to spread to other retail sectors as time goes on, though for now it’s relatively rare to find a retailer willing to shell out for two-way shipping unless competitive realities force their hand. So here are some online retailers that will pay for shipping both ways.
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ZapposZappos, a popular online shoe and clothing retailer, is arguably the pioneer of the risk-free return policy.
“I would credit Zappos with [starting the trend],” says Knowles. “They pretty much used the shipping policy to build their brand, and everybody else had to follow what Zappos was doing.”
The policy is simple: Everything ships for free, and if you don’t like your items, you can print out a prepaid shipping label and mail it back for a free refund within 365 days of the purchase. The shoes must be in their original condition (and packaging), so don’t think you can wear the shoes every day for a year and then try to score a refund.
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PiperLimeThis Gap-owned brand offers shoes, handbags and apparel, but footwear is PiperLime’s specialty. It’s no surprise, then, that its return policy is virtually identical to Zappos’. The one difference is that you only have 45 days to return your purchase in its original condition. But really, how long does it take to figure out the shoes don’t fit?
Photo Credit: piperlime.gap.com
BonobosAn online-only men’s clothing retailer, Bonobos started with the goal of making men’s pants that truly fit well. Of course, it couldn’t exactly make that claim unless it were willing to let customers return pants at no cost if they turned out to be ill-fitting. Aided by its customer service “ninjas,” the retailer brags that you can “return anything, anytime.” It even urges customers to buy two pairs of pants in sequential sizes and return the pair that doesn’t fit.
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L.L. BeanL.L. Bean made headlines in March when it announced that it would begin offering free shipping on all items, with no minimums. When you combine that with its 100% guarantee return policy, you’re looking at a very attractive destination for risk-free online shopping.
Technically L.L. Bean doesn’t offer free shipping both ways: You can use a prepaid return label, but the company will deduct $6.50 from your refund. However, you can return or exchange the item free of charge at an L.L. Bean store (even if you bought it online), and the 100% guarantee means that you can return anything at any time for any reason if it proves unsatisfactory. So if the zipper on your backpack breaks after five years, you can get a brand new one for just the $6.50 it costs to return it.
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SwimSpotThe downside to buying a bikini online? You don’t know whether it’s going to flatter your body until you try it on. With that in mind, SwimSpot.com offers free standard shipping, returns and exchanges on all orders. Returns can be made for any reason at any time, though if you return it after 90 days you’ll get store credit rather than a straight refund. Returned items must be unwashed and unworn, “with original tags and hygiene strips attached.”
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Shoes.comAll orders on Shoes.com ship for free, and you can return them for a full refund within 60 days as long as you haven’t been wearing them around. Return shipping is also free as long as you use UPS and print out a prepaid label from the site. The return policy does note, however, that “an excessive number of returns in a 12-month period may cause us to reject future orders from you,” so don’t abuse the privilege.
Photo Credit: shoes.com
UniqueHomeStore.comKids need shoes too, even if they’d probably prefer to run around barefoot. UniqueHomeStore.com, which specializes in kids’ shoes, ships all orders for free via three-day shipping in the continental U.S. And if you’re unsatisfied with your purchase, you can return it with shipping paid within 60 days for a full refund. If you return it after 60 days you can only get an exchange or a store credit.
Photo Credit: UniqueHomeStore.com
Wal-MartIn addition to these online-only retailers, there is another class of “risk-free” retailer: a bricks-and-mortar store that sells merchandise online, ships it for free, and then lets you return it to the store for free. Wal-Mart is a great example. The retail giant has locations everywhere, but if you’d rather avoid the store itself on Black Friday, you can find thousands of items that ship for free (and even more that can be shipped to the store and picked up later). And if you don’t like what arrives in the mail, you can bring it back to your local Wal-Mart at a date that’s convenient for you and return it without even stepping into the post office.
Sure, you’ll miss whatever in-store exclusive doorbusters Wal-Mart has to offer on Friday. But if you just want to get low Wal-Mart prices without actually shopping there, you don’t need to worry about paying to ship back and forth.
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TargetMost (but not all) items shipped by Target.com can be returned to the store for free; just look on the product page where it says “Return Method” and make sure it’s designated “Mail in or store.” As for getting your items shipped free in the first place, that’s a bit more tricky: You can sign up for a Target debit or credit card and get everything shipped free, but otherwise you’ll need to buy at least $50 worth of free-shipping eligible items for free shipping to kick in.
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