Free shipping day is a good deal. Is it great?

More than 1,700 stores are offering free shipping day to customers who buy online Friday. But probably only savvy shoppers will get a great deal.

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    In this Nov. 29 photo, shoppers leave the Barnes and Noble store in South Burlington, Vt. Online, the giant bookseller is offering free shipping on Friday, one of more than 1,700 merchants participating in free shipping day.
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Mroe than 1,700 online merchants are offering to ship their goods for free – and get them to you by Christmas – if you order on Friday, Dec. 17.

Just over 1,000 stores will waive shipping fees on all their goods sold Dec. 17, according to freeshippingday.com. These include Lands' End, Dell, Barnes & Noble, and Zappos.com.

Another 724 are offering free shipping selectively. Usually, you can get the deal if you spend a certain amount: $25 or more at JCPenney; $75 or more at Patagonia.

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That's a record number of merchants signed up for free shipping day, in its third year of existence. The idea is to give online retailers one last shot at attracting shoppers who want their presents to arrive before Christmas Day.

But are these deals the best deals? Not always.

Unlike Black Friday or Cyber Monday – the Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving – shoppers have to be a lot more savvy. "The deals won't be as pronounced as Black Friday," says Michael Brim, founder of BFAds, a website tracking Black Friday deals. "You're going to have to find those key little hidden gem items."

The reason: Retail sales this season appear to have been stronger than expected, which gives retailers less incentive to offer big discounts on their remaining goods. And with the window closing for online stores to ship their goods on time for Christmas, the competition for traditional stores will be less after Friday.

Still, not all stores are having the same success in selling products. And if sales this weekend -- the last weekend before Christmas -- are soft, then the pressure will be on retailers to unload their goods before the January doldrums.

So shoppers who track prices closely can still land some great deals in the coming days.

On Friday, for example, online deal site FatWallet.com found that Walmart was offering an in-store deal of $299 for Sony's Playstation 3 Slim, the same price it was offering for a regular Playstation 3 on Black Friday. Only now, Walmart's throwing in a $100 gift card to boot.

The deals are still out there, if you can find them.

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