Free Shipping Day 2009: For small firms, free shipping today is huge boon

On Free Shipping Day 2009, small businesses get a boost usually reserved for big retailers through a concerted free shipping push.

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    A worker at United Parcel Service's package-sorting facility in Hodgkins, Ill., the world's largest, moves packages on Dec. 16. More than 2 million packages were expected to have passed through the location on Wednesday, the busiest day of the year for UPS. On Free Shipping Day 2009, small businesses get big business-like clout through a consolidated promotion on FreeShippingDay.com.
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On Cyber Monday, it was the big retailers that got their due. On Free Shipping Day 2009, the little guys get in on the act.

"This is something for small businesses," says Luke Knowles of FreeShipping.org, the group organizing Free Shipping Day. "In the current state of the economy, a lot of companies could use a day like this that might equal three or four days of sales throughout the rest of the year."

As of Thursday morning, there were more than a few well-known brands among the 729 merchants offering free shipping that will arrive on shoppers' stoops by Christmas. Nike, Adidas, Levi's, and nutrition and supplements brand GNC all have free shipping deals.

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But it's the profusion of small retailers that makes Free Shipping Day unique.

"It’s a nice marketing opportunity when you can participate in a marketing option that doesn’t have to do with the size of your wallet but the size of your brain," says Kim Dow, who runs Bear Hill Sports in Charlotte, Vt.

Ms. Dow – who "has one employee and four kids" – says that beyond the actual sales figures generated Thursday, the exposure Bear Hill has already gotten in terms of web traffic from the Free Shipping site is a huge help.

"We looked at some statistics today and it turned out that even just being listed on their website, its our fourth-largest referrer to the site. That’s great," she says. "And we decided to extend it all the way through Christmas and we wouldn’t have thought of doing it unless we had been approached by them to participate in this."

Although Dow is a newcomer to Free Shipping Day, some retailers who participated last year are back for more in 2009.
 
“We don’t have the marketing budget of a big retailer, so Free Shipping Day represents a great opportunity to increase our customer base,” says Kari Kraichely of Charm Boutique, which sells handmade jewelry and gifts, in a release from FreeShipping.org. “We already offered free shipping before we participated in last year’s Free Shipping Day, but since the event gave us exposure to people who didn’t know about us, we had a lot of repeat sales throughout the year.”

Overall, company participation in Free Shipping Day tripled from 2008's inaugural run.

While inclusion in the Free Shipping Day site necessitates a promise that items will arrive by Christmas, that's a vow left up to the retailer's good faith.

"We really leave that up to the merchants. They tell us that they can get it there in time," Mr. Knowles says. "We just have to trust that they can and maybe pray that there’s no bad weather."

As always, the poor economy looms large.
"It saves quite a bit of money," says Megan Cassity of Hickory Farms, a medium-sized food and gift-basket retailer. "And in this economy everybody is looking to save every little bit that they can."

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