Ever since Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) started turning a profit on its everyday free shipping policy, its fellow online rivals have caught on. Always the trendsetter, Amazon is now finding other companies arming themselves for a holiday shopping season ripe with cheer and discounted shipping.

While Barnesandnoble.com (NASDAQ:BNBN) had little choice but to follow suit earlier this year -- after all, it only grew its sales by 5% last year while Amazon charged ahead by 26% -- would you believe Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)?

Yes, the company earlier this month started offering $0.97 shipping on select toy orders. Toys "R" Us (NYSE:TOY) is also being more aggressive on the toys and video games that it is tagging for free ground shipping.

Overstock (NASDAQ:OSTK) has been offering $2.95 flat rate shipping in the continental United States for ages. It has clearly helped as its revenue more than doubled last year. The leading closeout retailer has certainly gotten our attention, being singled out in a recent issue of Hidden Gems.

Even Gateway (NYSE:GTW) has been bitten by the free shipping bug. Despite the hefty costs it has to swallow in transporting hefty computers and peripherals, it has helped set it apart from the online storefronts of Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), which only occasionally offer free shipping promotions.

What does this mean to you? Plenty. As a likely holiday shopper over the next few weeks, you should look beyond the prices at your favorite online merchants. Consider all of the added costs, from shipping to taxes to gift-wrapping. They vary, naturally. And while the prognosis looks good for retailers this holiday season, it seems that kind of optimism won't be getting in the way of some great shipping deals.

Getting in the seasonal spirit? Are you the neighbor with the big ole jack-o'-lantern on your front lawn this weekend or the one that puts out your holiday decorations in November? Have some tips to share? All this and more -- in the Crafty Fools discussion board. Only on Fool.com.