As the 2017 holiday shopping season starts to pick up speed, a number of major retailers have already released their free shipping offers.
These deals have become crucial, because they level the playing field with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). The online retailer has 90 million Prime members who pay $99 a year, or $10.99 a month, to get two-day shipping for no added cost, according to a recent report. In terms of shipping speed and cost, Amazon Prime has set the new benchmark for retailers, and failing to meet that standard can greatly curtail a seller's pool of customers.
Of course, offering free shipping with no minimum purchase amount (as Amazon does with Prime) gets expensive. That's why the biggest retailers have all come up with different deals. Here are some of the shipping deals on offer as Christmas grows near.
Now through Dec. 23, Target (NYSE:TGT) will offer free shipping with no minimums. Target's deal seems better than it sounds because it's for "Standard Shipping," which takes three to five business days. Still, for shoppers who plan ahead, Target's lack of a minimum could make this offer attractive.
For those who are not Prime members, Amazon does offer free shipping -- but unlike Target's, it requires a minimum purchase. Any qualifying order over $25 will be delivered five to eight days after all items in your order are ready to ship.
That's a bad deal -- and it's designed to get you to join Prime (or at least sign up for the free 30-day trial). It could, however, be useful if you aren't a member and you see a big-ticket item at a good price on Amazon.
Amazon's largest competitor has free two-day shipping on orders over $35 all year round. For the holidays, though, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) will improve that offer by increasing the number of items that qualify for the deal, including "some of the hottest products of the season," according to a Nov. 1 press release.
The top big-box electronics retailer has been offering free shipping since Oct. 29, and it will continue to do so through Christmas Day. Like Target's and Amazon's free offers, it won't get your order to you in two days. Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) does, however, offer a handy chart that shows consumers the date by which they need to place orders to receive them before each of the major December holidays.
Struggling retailer Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) has been aggressive this holiday season. It has already started discounting merchandise for its "Holiday Blowout" sale, and it will offer free shipping on orders over $49 at both its Sears and Kmart websites. As with many of the deals on this list, that means standard, not two-day shipping.
That said, it is possible -- even easy -- to get free two-day shipping from Sears. The retailer is offering free 90-day trials of its Shop Your Way Max program, which includes two-day shipping, with no obligation and no credit card required.
Much of J.C. Penney's (NYSE:JCP) holiday plan seems to be focused on driving traffic to its stores. Because of that, its holiday-season free shipping deals are, at least for now, limited. The company already offers free standard (three- to five-business-day) shipping on all orders over $99, and from Nov. 25 to Nov. 29 it will extend that to all orders over $25 in honor of Cyber Monday.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.