December 16, 2010, 1:13 PM

Searches for ‘free shipping’ fall in past week

That may indicate that consumers are finding this information directly from the retailers.

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Consumers’ searches for “free shipping” peaked last year the week ending Dec. 19. That was the week that included Free Shipping Day, an event created by the informational site for consumers Freeshipping.org that marks the last day of guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve, along with the majority of shipping deadlines for online retailers.

However, last week the share of searches for “free shipping” dropped 22%, compared to a year ago, according to Experian Hitwise, a web measurement firm. Variations of "free shipping" that include a retailer's name, for instance, also fell 21%. Those trends have been consistent since the start of the holiday season, which began the week ending Nov. 6, says Hitwise’s director of research Heather Dougherty.

The drop in consumer searches may indicate that consumers are finding this information directly from the retailers via their web sites or e-mail campaigns and may not need to actively seek out the promotions as often, she says.

"Consumers are still searching for promotional codes and coupons, so I think its just an isolated phenomenon with free shipping because consumers are finding free shipping offers more easily," says Dougherty.

The top three sites receiving traffic from “free shipping” searches were Freeshipping.org (22%), Freeshippingday.com (15%) and Amazon.com (13%).

The dip in "free shipping" searches could have repercussions tomorrow for traffic to Freeshipping.org’s sister site Freeshippingday.com because Dec. 17 is this year’s Free Shipping Day. The event is expected to feature offers from more than 1,500 retailers, including Overstock.com, Sears.com and ToysRUs.com, aggregated on Freeshipping.org’s sister site Freeshippingday.com. More than 780 participating merchants will offer free shipping on all orders.

The site targets gift-buying procrastinators who flock to the site to find a central depot featuring retailers offering guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery with free shipping late in the holiday shopping season. Last year, when more than 750 merchants listed their free shipping offers, Freeshippingday.com had 450,000 unique visitors during the season, including 232,000 on Free Shipping Day itself.

Any merchant can list its free shipping offer for free on Freeshippingday.com. However, the site does have an affiliate relationship with about 30% of the merchants who elect to pay per click in order to receive more prominent placement, says Luke Knowles, CEO of Freeshipping.org.

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