Business

Clock's ticking down for free online shipping

Attention online shoppers: If free shipping matters and you need delivery by Christmas Eve, you'd better get clicking.

Virtually all e-commerce sites still dangling free shipping offers drop them by Friday. The biggest online shopping day of the year promises to be today, one day before two-thirds of all online retailers' standard paid shipping deadlines pass for pre-Christmas delivery.

"D-day is here," said Christine Frietchen, an editor at search.com, a Web site that boils down product reviews and has a blog short course on free shipping deadlines and tips. "Even if you pay for shipping, you'd better be done online this weekend. Sunday is the drop-dead day."

Other Web sites list more merchants' free shipping policies, but be prepared to wade through the fine print of minimum purchase requirements, restrictions, exceptions and constantly changing prices. One is cybermonday.com, the site of online trade group shop.org. Another Web site, freeshippingday.com, lists 635 e-commerce sites including Amazon, Best Buy, Macy's. Sears and Walmart that offer free shipping deals that expire today.

But not all free shipping offers are the same because some retailers build it into their regular price. Zappos.com, for instance, offers free overnight shipping and returns 365 days a year. But discounting is not part of the biggest online shoe retailer's formula.

Practical shoppers only start at price comparison sites like pricegrabber.com and shopping.com, said Frietchen, who finds cheaper prices by moving on to shop more sites.

"You have to be careful about exactly what the product is to get the best deal," she said. "For example, there are plenty of no-name digital cameras out there for $80, but for $10 more we found a far better Canon A480."

Traffic online, in stores and malls is up, but fewer shoppers than usual report finishing their holiday buying. In fact, most shoppers say they have finished only 47 percent of their buying, the least since 2004 and slightly fewer than a year ago. Only 8 percent are done, according to surveys from Big Research.

SHIPPING DEADLINES

The Postal Service deadlines for delivery by Christmas Day:

- Parcel post: today

- Express mail, military service, APO//FPO: Friday

- Priority mail and first-class mail: Monday

- Express Mail: Dec. 23

- For more information, go to usps.com.

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