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Free Shipping: Seven Ways it Can Hook Your Customers

Free ShippingIf there's one thing Americans love, it's free shipping.

This shopping perk has gone from a rare bonus to almost an entitlement in consumers' minds. Nearly half of transactions last year involved free shipping, and 61 percent of consumers say they will cancel their purchase if free shipping isn't offered, according to a recent comScore survey.

There's more than one way to offer free shipping, though. Each has its own drawbacks and advantages. Here's a look at seven types of free-ship offers, as compiled by the website FreeShipping.org, which collects information on free-shipping discount codes.

  1. All free, all the time. This offer is rarer all the time, but some retailers do offer totally free shipping. L.L. Bean, Nordstrom and Sears are among the major retailers that offer this deal, FreeShipping reports.
     
  2. Free shipping -- to members only. Think Amazon Prime here. You pay an annual fee to join the 'club,' and then your shipping is free. FreeShipping.org describes this mode as "increasingly prevalent."
     
  3. Free shipping with a minimum order size. This one has been making America buy one more item than we really needed probably since catalogs were invented more than a hundred years ago.
     
  4. Free shipping, only on certain items. A tried and true method for getting rid of the item you've overstocked or that has the best margins. Providing a preference for free shipping drives customers to choose the items you've put the free shipping offer on over your other goods.
     
  5. Free site-to-store shipping. This one is gaining ground too, especially with big chains that have many locations. In this scheme, it's free if you'll drop by the store to pick it up.
     
  6. Free return shipping. Nearly everyone does this in apparel. Otherwise, there's basically no other way to get you to buy the stuff via catalog or online.
     
  7. Flat-rate shipping. OK, it's not completely free, but it usually represents a substantial discount over what consumers might have paid for shipping otherwise. So part of the shipping cost is free, and the cost is contained at one low rate to prevent unpleasant shipping-bill surprises.

Do you offer free shipping or not? Leave a comment and tell us how you handle shipping costs.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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