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Free Shipping Day: Is it a deal?

NEED TO KNOW
  • 2,000 retailers expected to offer free shipping today
  • Last year, Free Shipping Day online sales topped $1 billion
  • Free shipping doesn't guarantee a good deal
Free Shipping Day: Is it a deal?

With little more than a week to go before Christmas, millions of Americans are taking part in a long-held holiday tradition: procrastination.

According to a recent poll from Reuters, 58 percent of us have done half or less of our holiday shopping. Twenty-eight percent haven't even started yet. That adds up to a lot of last-minute traffic in stores and online over the next seven days.

But don't fret if you're under the gun to get gifts under the tree in time. We've got just the event for you.

Today is Free Shipping Day, a promotion created in 2008 to make people aware that it's possible to wait until really late in the game and still have everything delivered by the night before Christmas. It's right there on the website's front page: "Free Shipping Day makes procrastination possible."

More than 1,600 retailers have signed on (the entrepreneur who created Free Shipping Day said he expected the final tally to be 2,000.) The event's website lists all offers and deals. The hook is guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve, and millions of shoppers buy in. Online sales on Free Shipping Day exceeded $1 billion last year and have beaten Black Friday online sales for the past two years.

But if you're thinking about shopping today just to get the free shipping, step away from your wallet for a second and make sure you're really getting good deals.

Dealnews.com looked into offers from past Free Shipping Days and found that many retailers put restrictions on which items qualify for free shipping, or require minimum orders. And, free shipping is hardly exclusive to Free Shipping Day. Numerous stores offer it throughout the year.

You should also do some comparison shopping on the merchandise you're interested in to make sure a free shipping promotion isn't masking an inflated price. If you're looking at electronics, HLN Money Expert Clark Howard recommends checking prices on Decide.com. There also are several apps you can use to check prices on your smartphone, including Red Laser and Sale Price.

If you're doing the shipping yourself, here are your deadlines to have items delivered by Christmas:

  • UPS: December 21 (Next Day Air), today (slowest ground service)
  • FedEx: December 25 (same-day service), today (slowest ground service)
  • USPS: December 22 (Express Mail)

Both UPS and FedEx are raising rates for ground shipping for 2013.

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