Is Free Shipping Really Free?

This all started with an argument, ahem, I mean a loving disagreement I had with my wife last month.  My wife loves Zappos.  She buys shoes, bags, gifts, anything she can really on the Zappos website.  Is it because of their award winning customer service?  No.  Is it because of their insane selection?  No.  Is it because she wants to support Tony Hsieh’s crusade to rebuild and revitalize downtown Las Vegas?  No, and if she heard me suggest this she would look at me and tell me I’m weird.  She loves Zappos because of the FREE SHIPPING.  But is it really free? This is what Zappos’ website says about order shipping, “All orders shipped to a destination within the United States, U.S. Territories, or to Military APO/FPO addresses are shipped free of charge. ”  And this is what the site says about return shipping, “There are no return shipping charges for orders originally shipped to a destination within the United States, U.S. Territories, or to Military APO/FPO addresses.”  Here is a link to details to their customer-friendly shipping policies: http://www.zappos.com/c/shipping-and-returns-popup in case you want to check it out for yourself.

Free Shipping

Zappos became the topic of conversation because I mentioned that they sell their products at retail prices.  My wife quickly corrected me.  “They sell their items for less.  It’s all discounted.”  I was thoroughly confused, so I did a little research and discovered the first of our dirty little secrets of shopping and shipping online.  Not only does Zappos not discount the bulk of their inventory, some items are more expensive than the same item on the manufacturer’s own site.  How do they get away with that?  I had to find out.

In my continued quest for truth I found a Yelp forum titled, Zappos.com – how the hell do they do it? http://www.yelp.com/topic/chicago-zappos-com-how-the-hell-do-they-do-it  Why are these reviews so special?  Because a ton of the comments claim Zappos is amazing, fantastic and ridiculous because they offer free shipping both ways, even though the reviews immediately before and after mention that in order to get the free shipping you have to pay their higher price for the item. Free Shipping Best Buy   From a business perspective I applaud their model.  They make shopping and shipping easy and people love that.  And to be fair to Zappos they do have great sales where products are discounted.  But the important thing to remember here is:

1. You may be paying for the FREE SHIPPING cost in the price of the item you are buying.

The next secret is in the marketing.  All year long retailers wait for the holiday shopping season to begin.  Some stores spend the first 10+ months of the year paying expenses so they can finally make a profit at Christmastime.  To say it’s important is a great understatement.  Without this season we probably wouldn’t have places like the Mall of America and South Coast Plaza.  So now that more and more people are buying gifts online how do the retailers guarantee your loyal patronage?  You guessed it, FREE SHIPPING.  But it’s not that simple.  You can’t just log on to Nordstrom.com on December 5th and expect to not pay shipping.  Sometimes you luck out, but free shipping is actually a tool the retailers use to ensure your loyalty.  How do they do this?  They give it to those on their email list, or those who have made purchases in the last year.  You may have been getting emails all year long from Banana Republic and because you didn’t need anything the emails went straight to your junk folder.  But now that it’s holiday time how are they going to manipulate you into leaving your Macys.com shopping cart full and heading over to Banana?  FREE SHIPPING.  Of course just as a thank you for being a great customer though.  Definitely not because they are holding you hostage until you like their Facebook page.

2. The more engaged you are with a retailer, the more likely you are to get free shipping.

Ever wonder why companies like Sears, Walmart and BestBuy offer to let you pickup the item at your local store?  “Buy this item now and we will ship it to your local store FREE OF CHARGE.  You think to yourself, “No way, FREE SHIPPING and a great price?  I gotta have it!”  I hope this secret is obvious to you too.  It’s already there!!  They aren’t shipping anything.  They are trying to get you to go into the store so you will look around and buy more stuff. In fact, sometimes it is more of a hassle trying to pickup an item you paid for online than it would have been to just drive down and buy the same item off the same shelf in the first place. online shipping

3. If the store offers to ship the item to the store for free, drive down and buy it.

The best bet in the quest for deals is to find the best deal AND factor in the shipping cost.  Only then will you know the true cost of an item. It’s also a good idea to interact with the stores you like. Fan their social media pages, join their newsletters and sync your American Express card to their promotions.  You can also check out www.FreeShipping.org for deals on shipping before you choose where to shop.

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