I love the convenience (and cost savings) of buying things on line, but I hate to pay for shipping. It just bugs me in a way that amortizing the $5 shipping cost over the items in my order wouldn’t. I recognize that this is not rational thinking (I’m sure Kahneman and Tversky have a heuristic for this), but there it is.
So, how to get free shipping, then?
Hit the minimum limit. Pretty obvious. Most companies offer free ship over a certain amount (even Target just announced permanent free shipping on $50+ orders), so be strategic about what you buy where. We pretty much always need diapers in our household, so they end up getting bought in advance when I need to round out my drugstore.com (or amazon, or diapers.com, etc) order to make the minimum.
Get the credit card. Everyone offers a credit card these days. And they almost all have free shipping on online purchases with their cards, no minimum. So if you have a store that you spend a lot at it may be worth getting the credit card just so you can use that Gap card to get free shipping on that single sweater you wanted. [Note: I frequently get asked “what about my credit score?” Having worked in the industry and knowing way too much about FICO scores, I can say that this won’t change a thing unless you are (1) opening a bunch of cards at once or (2) planning to hit the maximum limit. FICO gets wonky when you’re either asking for a lot of new credit at once or suddenly spending a much greater percentage of your available credit. Opening an Old Navy card isn’t going to do that for most folks]
Call customer service. This goes with my general mantra of you never know what you’ll get unless you ask. Sheryl Sandberg aside, most of the time if you call customer service and politely ask for a free ship code you’ll get one. Probably not worth the hold time to save $3 on a $12 purchase, but may be worth it to save $10 in shipping costs, or whatever your magic number is. You can also google the store and free shipping, of course, which can lead to good deals or lots of rabbit holes, usually both.
Pay for it. This last one is my favorite because it’s such a beautiful example of companies tricking us into paying for things that we then think are free. But even though they’re playing on the sunk cost, there generally is value in these deals. Amazon Prime is the most often cited – pay and you get “free” two-day shipping. But this is starting to become more common at other sites as well. Flash sale retailer Zulily offers Zulily Unlimited, where you pay $49 per year for free shipping on anything, all year. It’s a great deal if you shop on Zulily because their shipping is outrageous, but of course since it’s a good deal there is now a waitlist for the program (Sadly, I needed to link to Zulily instead of linking directly for the Unlimited link, since I’m still on the waitlist – if some corporate Zulily person magically happens to be reading my blog it’d be awfully kind of you to fix this). But at least retailers are starting to get the concept.