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Shipping Out If you can afford to join the fray, offering online customers free shipping may help you compete.

By Melissa Campanelli

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While free shipping has been an online promotional tool since the Internet's earliest days, the idea really picked up steam last year when began experimenting with it as a full-time service. Initially, the giant Seattle-based online retailer offered free shipping to customers whose purchases totaled $99 or more. The company later lowered the minimum to $49, and then to $25 last fall--its current offering. (There are some exceptions, however, including apparel, video games and accessories, baby products and certain oversized items.) is not the only company to offer some form of free shipping to customers., a shopping comparison site that tracks consumer spending across 2,000 Web sites, says there are currently 183 sites with active promotions, ranging from free shipping all the time on every item to free shipping on a variety of items or orders for a limited time.

The main reason to offer free shipping, of course, is to encourage people to fill shopping carts on your site and complete their purchases. Free-shipping promotions were a significant factor, according to Jupiter Research, in boosting online holiday sales to the $13.8 billion mark in 2002-an increase of more than 23 percent over the 2001 holiday period.

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