Amazon ( AMZN -0.22% ) has changed consumer expectations around product shipping. The online retailer has made its paid Prime membership, which includes free two-day (and sometimes one-day) shipping, so ubiquitous that its rivals have generally given up any hope of charging for shipping orders.
Some retailers have responded by offering some form of free shipping all year long. Others have holiday-specific shipping deals that attempt to level the playing field at least during the busiest shopping season of the year.
Which retailers have free shipping?
It's fair to say that nearly every retailer has some form of free shipping during the holiday season. Here's a look at what the top players are offering:
- Amazon: The online giant actually offers one of the worst free shipping deals because so many Americans already pay for Prime. It offers free 5- to 8-day shipping on orders over $25.
- Walmart ( WMT -1.56% ): Walmart offers year-round free shipping on orders over $35 on an ever-expanding selection of merchandise.
- Target ( TGT 0.40% ): This retailer is offering free shipping until Christmas. It's not requiring a minimum and says some orders will arrive the next day (although it does not promise a specific delivery window).
- Best Buy ( BBY -1.42% ): The technology retailer is offering free next-day delivery on orders over $35 (with some exceptions).
- Kohl's ( KSS -2.52% ): This retailer offers free standard shipping on orders over $50.
- J.C. Penney ( JCPN.Q ): The struggling retailer is not doing itself any favors with its $49 purchase threshold for free 3- to 5-day shipping. It does offer free shipping on orders over $75.
- Costco ( COST 0.11% ): The warehouse club offers free 2-day shipping on grocery orders over $75. It also has free shipping for many items sold on its website.
Most retailers offer some form of free shipping, but as you can see, terms vary. In some cases, there are better perks if you join a loyalty program or have a retailer-specific credit card.
Do your homework
Free, fast shipping can be an important perk. It's less relevant, though, if you end up paying more for the overall cost of the item. Research the total cost of everything you buy to make sure you're getting the best deal possible.
You should also check in-store prices on the item you are buying. Some retailers may charge less in-store (though that has become less common). It's also possible to buy items online and pick them up in the store. Many retailers have made that process very easy with dedicated areas in their stores for it.
Retailers offer so many different shipping and pick-up options that it can get a little confusing for consumers. The first thing you should ask yourself is how fast you actually need it. If same-day shipping comes at a premium or requires buying an item someplace that's charging more for it, then it may not be worth the price if you can wait.
The holiday shopping season requires you to do your research. Be protective of your wallet, and check prices. Shipping -- due to heavy competition -- has become fairly customer-friendly, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be skeptical and careful.