Online retail has hit a tipping point in the U.S. over the last few years. Thanks to Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) blockbuster growth and the popularity and convenience of shopping from home or on a smartphone, traditional retailers have been forced to play catch-up, and they've been moving quickly.
Walmart (NYSE:WMT) bought Jet.com in 2016 and has added a slew of smaller online retailers since then, while investing in its own website and its pickup and delivery capabilities. Target (NYSE:TGT) followed suit by acquiring same-day delivery specialist Shipt last year, and even Costco (NASDAQ:COST) has gotten into the mix, partnering with Instacart for free same-day delivery on perishables and offering free two-day delivery on nonperishables with a $75 order minimum.
For consumers, the upshot of all this competition is that there's never been a better time to shop online. It's cheaper and faster than ever, and with the holiday season about to begin, retailers are stepping up their offers to grab new customers during their peak selling season. Let's look at the retailers that shoppers can turn to for free shipping.
Free shipping, no strings attached
Target launched the first shot across the bow here, when the "cheap chic" chain said in October that it would offer free two-day shipping on hundreds of thousands of items with no order minimum or membership fee from Nov. 1 through Dec. 22, the first time the retailer made such an offer. In addition, Target is offering same-day delivery through Shipt on 55,000 items for an additional fee, same-day order pickup at all of its stores for more than 250,000 items, Drive Up service at nearly 1,000 stores, and same-day delivery from Target stores in selected urban locations for a flat fee of $7.
Not long after Target announced its move, Amazon followed suit, saying it would offer free shipping for all customers -- not just Prime members -- with no order minimum, suspending its usual $25 minimum. But unlike Target, Amazon did not promise free two-day delivery, saying items would instead ship in five to eight days. The e-commerce giant said it had hundreds of millions of items available for free shipping.
For Prime members, of course, Amazon is offering a sweeter deal, promising free same-day shipping on more than 3 million items, and free two-day delivery on more than 100 million items.
Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) is also offering free shipping with no order minimum, and the retailer is also making same-day delivery available in 40 metro areas. Like Target, Best Buy also has in-store or curbside pickup at its locations, with most orders available in an hour or less. Best Buy says its stores are within a 15-minute drive of 70% of Americans.
Finally, Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) offers free shipping without a minimum as well as options like curbside pickup and same-day delivery with a fee. Nordstrom has free shipping without a minimum year-round, but it is not available for its off-price Nordstrom Rack chain.
Free shipping with a minimum
Plenty of other retailers are offering free shipping with an order minimum.
Among them are Walmart, which has free two-day shipping on millions of items with a minimum of $35 year-round, and just expanded that offer to marketplace sellers. Walmart has also been rolling out Pickup Towers to more stores to make in-store pickup easier. Macy's (NYSE:M) offers free shipping with no order minimum for its platinum and gold rewards members, while other customers must meet a $99 order minimum.
Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) offers free shipping with a $50 purchase, which is the same as the Gap (NYSE:GPS) and its Banana Republic and Old Navy chains. Bed Bath & Beyond provides free shipping in three to six days with a $39 minimum.
One other option
Holiday shoppers are likely already familiar with Amazon Prime and its free two-day shipping, among other benefits, but there's a similar service for a range of retailers called ShopRunner.
ShopRunner, which is partly owned by Alibaba, provides free two-day shipping and free returns at retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Chico's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ann Taylor, American Eagle, and over 100 others. ShopRunner normally costs $99 for a one-year membership, but you can get three months free for signing up now. Additionally, World Mastercard and American Express cardholders can get the service free, and Paypal account holders get one year of ShopRunner free.
With e-commerce logistics getting better, Target setting a high bar for free two-day shipping, and options like ShopRunner, 2018 could be the easiest holiday season yet for online shoppers.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Jeremy Bowman owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Mastercard, and PayPal Holdings. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2019 $82 calls on PayPal Holdings. The Motley Fool recommends Costco Wholesale and Nordstrom. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.