62 of the largest 100 online retailers offered free shipping as of the week of Monday, Nov. 10, though nearly all tied it to conditions such as minimum order value, type of product or a limited time period, according to a survey conducted this week by Internet Retailer. Zappos and Blue Nile were the only two offering unconditional free shipping. The retailer with the highest minimum order for free shipping was Urban Outfitters, at $250.
The importance of offering free shipping has been underscored by other research indicating that it can lead to more online sales. 93% of women and 87% of men say free shipping would motivate them to spend more online this holiday season, according to a survey of 10,000 households by The Conference Board and TNS, two research organizations.
Indeed, free shipping is prominently promoted on the homes pages of some of the web merchants surveyed by Internet Retailer, including 1-800-Flowers, Neiman Marcus and Art.com. Others say they will actively promote free shipping as part of holiday season marketing campaigns.
“We currently have several free shipping promotions running on our site and plan to utilize this tool aggressively during the holiday buying season,” says Bernard Luthi, vice president of merchandising for Newegg.com, which is promoting selective free-shipping offers.
The largest online retailers among the top 100 are slightly more likely to offer free shipping than others. 34 of the top 50 offer free shipping, while 28 of the next 50 largest web merchants offer it. The top 100 e-retailers surveyed were taken from the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, which ranks web merchants by online sales.
The most common free-shipping offer this week was on orders of $50 or more, a deal offered by nine of the retailers, including office supplies rivals Staples, Office Depot and Office Max, and Apple, Target, Restoration Hardware, 1-800 Contacts and eBags. Another five, Toys ‘R’ Us, CSN Stores, CVS, Lowe’s and Oriental Trading Co., offer free shipping on orders of $49 or more. HPShopping’s free shipping kicks in on orders of $59.
Four e-retailers-Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Drugstore.com and Shutterly-offer free shipping on orders of $25 or more. Circuit City comes in at a minimum order of $24.
Eleven online merchants offer free shipping only on orders of at least $99, the threshold at Musician’s Friend and Sears.
For orders of $100 or more, free shipping is available at online retailers SonyStyle, Victoria’s Secret, Nordstrom and Crate and Barrel. At American Eagle Outfitters, free shipping requires an order of at least $110.
$150 is the starting point for free shipping at Spiegel Brands and Tiffany; $195 at Ralph Lauren; $200 at Neiman Marcus; and $250 at Urban Outfitters.
Several retailers, however, have set expiration dates on their current free-shipping offers. Some terminate as early as Nov. 14, while others go to Nov. 16 or into December. Williams-Sonoma has the latest termination date; it’s offering free shipping on select products through Dec. 24.
At JR.com, the web site of J&R; Electronics, shoppers can click a free-shipping icon to scroll down through thousands of products that are available with free shipping. L.L. Bean and Gap (including sister brands Banana Republic and Old Navy) offer free shipping on all orders purchased with their private label credit cards.
Overstock.com doesn’t offer free shipping, but it charges only $2.95 to ship all orders, occasionaly at a special price of $1 as it did this week; SmartBargains charges $2.95 to ship all orders purchased by loyalty club members.
In another twist, Zappos, which offers free shipping on all orders and returns, is promoting free overnight shipping through Dec. 31. Zappos has noted, however, that many of its regular free shipping orders still arrive within a day.
The survey by Internet Retailer only covered free-shipping offers presented on retail web sites, not special offers retailers may have made through e-mail or other external means.
The following online retailers among the top 100 showed no free shipping offers on their web sites: CDW
Wal-Mart (only offers free shipping to stores)
Abercrombrie & Fitch
Orchard Brands (free shipping offered only on Blair.com and Sahalie.com)
Follett Higher Education Group
Bass Pro Shops
Harry and David
Market Day Corp.
U.S. Auto Parts Network