Ways Free Shipping Could Be Costing You More

Free shipping isn't always "free." It's time to get savvy about your online shopping.

If you weren’t already doing most of your shopping online before the pandemic, you’ve likely joined the legions of consumers who have taken to their keyboards to do their spending rather than heading to good, old-fashioned bricks and mortar stores. With online shopping comes the almost obsessive need to score free shipping on whatever it is you’re purchasing. Consumers will do pretty much anything to duck and dodge that cost. In fact, according to a report by the National Retail Association published in 2019, 75 percent of people surveyed said they expect free delivery even if their order is under $50. That figure is up 7 percent from 2018 when a similar survey was taken. But how far will consumers go to check off that free shipping box on their wish list? Well, the answer is sometimes too far, meaning they could actually end up spending more if they hadn’t sought the complimentary delivery deal. New to virtual food shopping? Here’s what you need to know about grocery shopping online.

Not so fast

“Consumers expect free shipping options from retailers now,” says Diane McCrohan, associate professor in the College of Business at Johnson & Wales University. “Oftentimes if free shipping is not offered, the consumer will look elsewhere for the product. However free shipping is not always a good deal for the consumer.”

For starters, if you have to spend a certain amount to score complimentary delivery, you may already be in over your head.

“Many times, you were only planning on buying one item, but due to the free shipping limit you will buy more items,” says McCrohan. “I have found myself within a few dollars of the free shipping minimum and I have had to add a small item that I had no plans to purchase.”

These are the 13 savvy shopping tricks you’ll really wish you had known all along.

In the club

Retailers want you to spend, and those with smart marketing strategies know that offering free shipping will automatically get more eyeballs on their product. But before you hit “Complete Order,” look to see if you just inadvertently signed up for a subscription or joined an autorenewing club to land the free ship.

“If you join the retailer’s club, you will get free shipping,” says McCrohan. “This oftentimes means that you will be paying a yearly membership for joining the club. A great example of this is with Amazon and its Prime Memberships. It is estimated that as of October 2020 Amazon has 126 million prime members in the United States. Those membership fees can get expensive.”

Meanwhile, you’ll want to read up on some insider secrets on how to save at your most beloved stores.

Pickup, please

Sometimes a retailer will offer up free delivery in the form of ship-to-store, where your purchased items will be waiting for you at customer service or guest relations. This may be a win, but it’s also a ploy to get you to that brick and mortar store. “If you are shopping from an omnichannel retailer that has a brick and mortar presence, they will entice you to ship it to their physical store. The retailer is hoping that you will pick up additional items when you go into their store. Macy’s and Kohl’s are both offering this year-round.”

Heading back to your favorite brick and mortar operation? These are the things you shouldn’t be doing at reopened retail stores.

Bulk up

“When free shipping is involved, the shopper’s behavior changes,” says Israel Gaudette, founder of Link Tracker Pro who also considers himself a retail enthusiast. “They buy more and in bulk if it costs them nothing to ship it. In my experience as a shopper, seeing ‘free shipping’ simply means bulk buying. To counter this, instead of buying more items you don’t need, why not just buy one item you need in bulk that you need most. Items like paper towels, laundry detergent, or coffee are the best ones. It’s not only favorable to the seller but you as well.” Here’s how to save more money when buying in bulk.


Be wary of free shipping offers if you’re ordering something that includes an oversized item. While the offer of free shipping may have lured you in, there may be some extra fees to get your package to your doorstep. “Heavy or large products can incur additional shipping and handling fees, even if they’re marked as qualifying for free shipping,” says Heather Lovett with DealNews.com. “This is because large appliances or pieces of furniture won’t typically fit into your local postal worker’s truck or van; these products typically have to be delivered in a larger truck and carried in by a team of at least two people. In general, you can expect to pay an additional $50 to $150 for freight delivery, though the actual fee may depend on the item.”

Price check

Before you pass up the opportunity to buy a product you want from a retailer that doesn’t offer a free shipping option in favor of one that does, do a price comparison. In fact, at least a few minutes of research to make sure that you really are coming out ahead with the site that already includes shipping. “Brands will almost always have a free shipping option,” says Andrus Purde, marketing expert and CEO of Outfunnel. “The cost of the shipping will be accounted for when calculating the cost of the product. People nowadays are so accustomed to free shipping they’d rather pay $100 with free shipping vs. $90 with paid shipping. But no one really checks out the final price and does a comparison between different shops. Free shipping almost always wins.” Looking for some fun trivia? See what famous products cost when they first launched vs. what they cost today.


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