Still Free Shipping on Last-Minute Holiday Gifts

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Holiday shopping procrastinators, prepare to be jolly: You can still get free shipping.

Roughly 22% of Americans wait until December to start their holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation's Holiday Survey, with a little more than 4% waiting until this week to hit stores and websites. With those folks in mind, retailers such as Amazon-owned Zappos, Willams-Sonoma's Pottery Barn, Nordstrom and Crate & Barrel are still offering free shipping guaranteed to reach shoppers by Christmas until as late as Thursday.

For a sense of how much that perk matters to shoppers this season, consider that more than 50% of holiday purchases since the week ending Nov. 21 have included free shipping, according to ComScore. That's been 7 percentage points to 9.6 percentage points higher than similar shopping weeks last season, with free shipping orders from Dec. 13-17 alone increasing to 52.7% from 40.6% of all orders since the same period last year.

"Traffic seems to be building even more than normal even as we approach the last few years of shopping," says Cotter Cunningham, chief executive of Deals.com, which has maintained a detailed retail shipping calendar throughout the holiday season. "For whatever reason, the consumer's waiting a little longer this year to see if they're getting the best deal. Coupons are still out there and merchants are working hard to make themselves available because they know a big pile of money is still out there."

This is why, from today until Christmas Eve, online retail will be a procrastinator's paradise. Ending tonight at midnight EST, Kate Spade and Elizabeth Arden are offering free shipping on all orders, the NBA Store ships all orders over $25 for free, The Body Shop and Lowe's will pay the freight on orders of $50 or more, FAO Schwarz and Brookstone (with code SHIP99) will pick up shipping costs on purchases of $99 or more (with FAO parent company Toys R Us paying for shipping on purchases of $49 or more in its online free shipping store), Levi's and Aeropostale (whose deal expires at 10 p.m. EST) offer free shipping on all orders more than $100, and Bloomingdales ups today's ante for free shipping to a $300 minimum purchase.

Tomorrow, Pottery Barn offers free shipping on select items until noon EST; Eddie Bauer shares the deadline, but its free shipping offer is for any purchases beyond $100; and Crate and Barrel does the same -- but gives shoppers another hour. For those who couldn't be bothered with Christmas shopping until two days before the holiday, Fossil offers free overnight shipping on purchases of $100 or more until 1 p.m. EST, while Zappos ships all purchases for free as long as they're made by 4 p.m. EST.

"The online stores are just better at logistics now than they were 10 years ago, but part of it's them and part of it is UPS and FedEx," says Brad Wilson, editor of consumer site BradsDeals. "There are a lot more stores that are capable of having an extremely last-minute deadline."

The only thing that seems to have diminished about free shipping is its novelty. Shoppers got their first taste of free shipping offers Nov. 29, on Cyber Monday, and responded by spending more than $1 million in a day -- 16% more than they spent on Cyber Monday last year. That set the tone for online shopping this season, as free shipping and deals drove huge sales and more monickered shopping days.

On Dec. 13 -- the fake retail holiday dubbed "Green Monday" and the presumed "last day of free shipping" -- ComScore says consumers spent $954 million. That's 12% more than they spent last "Green Monday," and 32% more than the $648 million spent Black Friday. Four days later on Dec. 17 -- yet another fake retail holiday dubbed "Free Shipping Day" or "No, Seriously, This Is The Last Day of Free Shipping" -- consumers spent another $942 million, or 61% more than on the same Friday last year. With $5.5 billion in retail sales last week alone, a 14% increase over the same week last year, consumers bought everything but the line of nonsense retail promoters were trying to sell them.

"Free shipping has certainly become one of the prevalent themes of the 2010 holiday season," said ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni in a statement. "Since the week before Thanksgiving, we've seen the majority of online retail transactions use free shipping, which confirms the appeal of the offer for consumers."

That appeal doesn't seem to be waning, either. Wilson and Cunningham say an improved distribution system and increased consumer frugality made free shipping this year's holiday must-have. That may boost sales but, as Wilson notes, it could also bring customers to leave shipping costs off their shopping lists for the foreseeable Christmas future.

"So many stores have been offering free shipping online that I can't think of the last time I paid for shipping, and I don't think anyone else should pay for it, either," Wilson says.

For more gift sending tips, check out MainStreet's ultimate guide to free shipping.

 

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