Free Shipping Day 2013: deeper discounts, later deadlines

Free Shipping Day falls on Wednesday this week, just in time to give your gift-giving efforts the final push they need. This year's Free Shipping Day coincides with a record-breaking season for online retail sales. 

By , Staff writer

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    A FedEx employee sorts packages at the FedEx hub at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. Free Shipping Day is Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013.
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There are just eight days left until Christmas, but as in previous years, there is one last shopping holiday to give your gift-giving efforts the final push they need.

The fifth annual Free Shipping Day falls on Wednesday, Dec. 18, this year, with thousands of retailers great and small offering free shipping with guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery to procrastinating deal-seekers. The “holiday” was launched in 2008 by Luke and Masie Knowles, who still keep a running tally of all participating merchants at freeshippingday.com.

So far, the site lists 816 participating retailers, from giants like Dollar General and PetSmart to lesser-known merchants like Wetsuit Warehouse and Dentist.net, a dental supplier. More are likely to come: the last few Free Shipping Days have had thousands of retail participants, and the site will announce the full roster at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

Recommended: Are you a smart shopper? Take our quiz.

This year’s holiday caps off a record-breaking season for online shopping, even as the holiday season overall is expected to be a disappointment. IHS Global Insight, an economic research firm based in Lexington, Mass., expects holiday retail sales to increase 3.2 percent over last year – the weakest year-over-year growth since 2009. But the firm predicts online sales will jump 13.5 percent from 2012, and results so far seem to be exceeding that. According to marketing data firm ComScore, online shoppers spent $1.96 billion on Black Friday, a 15 percent rise. The period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday saw online sales grow 22 percent, and Cyber Monday became the biggest online shopping day in history. “The clicks are outpacing the bricks at an accelerated pace during the holiday season,” IHS Global Insight economist Chris Christopher writes via e-mailed press release.

But as online shopping becomes the norm, Free Shipping Day is becoming less a holiday and more of a way of doing business. And aggressive promotions by retailers bracing for an underwhelming season mean deeper discounts and more forgiving shipping deadlines than previous years.

The most obvious example is Amazon, which offers free shipping on all orders over $35 during the holidays and free two-day shipping with an Amazon Prime subscription. The online retail giant has extended its regular Christmas Day shipping deadline to Dec. 18. Prime members can get free shipping until Dec. 21. Walmart’s free shipping cutoff is Dec. 19, as is Target’s. Macy’s offers free shipping with a $99 minimum purchase until Dec 21.

Which store has the best Free Shipping Day deal? The early winner is Toys ‘R’ Us, which is offering up to 70 percent off plus free shipping on orders of $49 or more. Although most, if not all, retailers are touting their free shipping policies, most require a minimum purchase. Below are a few with no minimum: 

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