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Free Online Shipping

When you shop through an e-commerce retailer and have items sent directly to their recipients, you can get a better deal than you would if you shipped the packages yourself: free online shipping. Many vendors offer this perk with a minimum spend, which could be as low as $10 or well above $50.

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A few others, such as Zappos and Nordstrom, promise free shipping with no minimum.

Consumers looking for free online shipping can check for special offers and coupon codes at FreeShipping.org or RetailMeNot's free shipping section. And remember, Dec. 18, 2013, is Free Shipping Day, when more than 1,000 merchants will be offering free online shipping deals with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. Online shoppers who spring for a fee-based membership service such as Amazon Prime gain even greater access to free shipping.

Free Amazon Shipping.

Amazon offers free Super Saver Shipping on purchases of eligible items totaling at least $35, an increase from its longtime threshold of $25. This offer has actually given rise to "filler item finders" that help consumers reach the threshold for free Amazon shipping. If you find yourself frequently buying things you don't need in order to push your shopping cart past the $35 mark, an alternative is to sign up for Amazon Prime membership (and no doubt the increased minimum purchase is designed to nudge consumers that way). For $79 a year, members qualify for free two-day shipping on many items, free standard shipping on some products, and the option of choosing one-day shipping (or same-day delivery in select cities) for $3.99 per item within the continental U.S. If you select a slower shipping option, you may get credit to use in Amazon's MP3 Store or Instant Video Store.

So, is Amazon Prime worth it? With two-day shipping starting at $5.99 per shipment, plus an additional charge per item, it may not take long to break even if you frequently require expedited shipping. For many consumers, though, free Amazon shipping is not the primary draw. Amazon Prime membership includes access to Amazon's Netflix-like streaming-video service, which comprises tens of thousands of movies and TV shows, including many new releases. Amazon has also begun to offer original programming. Amazon offers a one-month free trial, which means savvy consumers could join only for the holiday season, when they may be most likely to benefit from free Amazon shipping. Just remember to cancel or you will automatically be charged the $79 for annual membership.

ShopRunner is another service that offers free two-day shipping for online purchases from retailers such as GNC, Toys R Us, Drugstore.com, and PetSmart. As with Amazon Prime, membership costs $79 a year, there are no minimum orders, and you can share the service with up to four household members. Membership also comes at a monthly rate of $8.95 and is complimentary for American Express cardholders. However, ShopRunner lacks additional services such as streaming video.

Free Walmart Shipping.

Online shoppers must spend at least $50 to get free Walmart shipping. The retailer marks eligible items with a Home Free logo. Another free Walmart shipping option, Site to Store, lets consumers pick up online orders from a nearby Walmart store or FedEx Office location in select cities. Walmart notifies customers by email or text when their orders are ready for pickup -- generally within five to 10 business days, or the same day if the item is in stock.

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Same-Day Delivery.

The same-day service offered to Amazon Prime members in select cities for $3.99 per item is also available to nonmembers for $8.99 per shipment, plus 99 cents per item. Several other companies are experimenting with same-day delivery as well. Walmart is charging $5 to $10 for its Walmart To Go service regardless of the purchase total. This same-day delivery option is available in several cities and slowly expanding. EBay has teamed up with a number of retailers in Chicago, New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area to offer a service called eBay Now. It provides same-day delivery of thousands of products for a $5 fee (with minimum order of $25). Google's Shopping Express is a similar service that recently debuted in select Bay Area locations.

by Louis DeNicola (Google+ Profile)

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