December 21, 2012, 1:39 PM

Good to the last sale

E-retailers push back their holiday shipping cut-off dates.

Lead Photo

Last-minute shoppers no longer have to rush to the mall to pick up their final gifts before Christmas. Many major online retailers have pushed their deadlines for ordering in time for Christmas Eve delivery to the final weekend of the holiday season, and free shipping offers remained common well into the last week before Christmas., the shoe and apparel retailer owned by Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, takes top honors for accepting late orders in a survey by Internet Retailer. The e-retailer says it will guarantee delivery by Dec. 24 on any order placed before midnight Pacific time (3 a.m. Eastern) on Saturday, Dec. 22. And, as always on Zappos, orders ship free.

Parent company Amazon set 3 p.m. ET on Saturday as the cut-off for Dec. 24 delivery, with shipping fees starting at $3.99. But it’s also offering free two-day shipping for orders placed up to 7 p.m. ET tonight. And, for $3.99, Amazon will deliver orders placed Monday for delivery that day in the markets where it routinely offers same-day delivery: Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; New York City; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and parts of New Jersey.

Web-only electronics and computer retailer Inc., No. 13 in the Top 500 Guide, also plans to offer same-day delivery, as it did last year, in the three areas where it operates warehouses: Los Angeles/Orange County; Memphis, TN; and the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. Moosejaw Mountaineering (No. 276) announced yesterday that, starting tomorrow, it would introduce same-day shipping via FedEx for customers in Chicago and the Denver-Boulder area. Moosejaw also offers free overnight shipping on orders of more than $149 placed by 5 p.m. ET today.

Online retailer clients of GSI Commerce can guarantee delivery on Christmas Eve on orders placed as late as 11 p.m. Saturday, one hour later than the cutoff time GSI set last year for its fulfillment operation, it says. GSI was able to extend the time because of several improvements it’s made this year, such as moving sale items into optimal positions for fast packing and opening its sixth North American distribution center in Reno, NV, to improve delivery to the West Coast. That center can deliver 93% of orders the next day to seven western states, says a spokeswoman for GSI, a unit of eBay Inc.

The extra hour tomorrow night will be busy at those GSI warehouses, as 10% of the day’s orders will be placed during those 60 minutes, says Tobias Hartmann, GSI’s chief executive of global operations. Among the GSI e-retailer clients that are accepting orders up to 11 p.m. ET tomorrow are Aeropostale (No. 114), Wilson’s Leather and Christopher & Banks (No. 296). Sports Authority (No. 230) will accept orders until 9 p.m. ET.

Many retailers offered free shipping well into this week. For example, (No. 38) is offering free shipping and guaranteed delivery before Christmas on orders placed before 4 p.m. ET Saturday, and is throwing in a free gift box and decorative bow. American Eagle Outfitters shipped all items for free through yesterday, and promises delivery with expedited shipping on orders placed through 1 p.m. ET tomorrow. Sears shipped items free until midnight last night, and Macy’s promised free shipping through yesterday on purchases of $99 or more.

The abundance of free shipping offers showed up in the marketing e-mails major retailers sent this past Monday, which some dubbed Free Shipping Day. 46% of marketing e-mails sent that day by large e-retailers promised free shipping with no minimum purchase, compared with 10% on Free Shipping Day last year, says Chad White, research director at e-mail service provider Responsys. “More retailers have been dropping the minimum purchase requirement in general this holiday season, but this level surprised me,” White wrote on his blog. “The free shipping paradigm is definitely undergoing major changes right now.”

One retailer that appears to have pleased its customers with a shipping offer is members-only web retailer ideeli Inc. (No. 172). The retailer offered this holiday season a $9.95 fee for shipping a customer’s first order, then free shipping all her other orders for the next 30 days, says Jason Faria, director of customer service at ideeli.

He says the impact of the promotion showed up in the customer satisfaction scores the e-retailer received in surveys of its customers by ForeSee, a company that specializes in measuring satisfaction with e-commerce sites. “We jumped two points in under a month, an incredible gain," Faria says. He would not disclose the score, but notes the e-retailer’s satisfaction score is above the industry average. ForeSee’s average score for top web retailers has been 78 in recent years.

Ideeli, however, did not push its cut-off date later this year. In fact, because of the way the calendar worked out, the e-retailer decided in consultation with its carrier, UPS, to cut off orders one day earlier, at midnight, Wednesday, Dec. 19. However, Faria says ideeli made sure it could deliver orders by Christmas Eve, by increasing the stock it holds in its own warehouse and relying less on suppliers to ship to customers, and by upgrading certain orders to expedited shipping to guarantee delivery before the holiday.

Many other retailers, however, are still taking orders for Christmas Eve delivery. Based on a survey by Internet Retailer editors of the web sites and e-mails of more than 50 major retailers here are the cut-off dates for purchases to be delivered by Dec. 24:

Monday, Dec. 24 (to selected cities): Amazon, Newegg, Moosejaw Mountaineering

Saturday, Dec. 22: Amazon, Saks, QVC, Zappos, Foot Locker, American Eagle Outfitters, Ralph Lauren, Sports Authority, L.L. Bean, Christopher & Banks, Wilson’s Leather, Aeropostale, Toys ‘R’ Us, Blue Nile, New York & Co.

Friday, Dec. 21: Barnes & Noble,, Apple, Avon,, Sears, Estee Lauder, Crate & Barrel, Cabela’s, Musician’s Friend, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lowe’s, REI, Delia’s, Tory Burch, Urban Outfitters, Gap, Victoria’s Secret, J.C. Penney, Moosejaw Mountaineering, Newegg

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