Some­times it’s worth pay­ing for ‘free’ ship­ping

Subscriptions can make sense, but not for all

The Commercial Appeal - - Business - COURT­NEY JESPERSEN

First they wanted free. Now they want fast. As shop­pers turn to the con­ve­nience of cy­ber­stores, they crave ship­ping that can keep up with their de­mands.

“For con­sumers, it’s one of the top things they’re look­ing for, and it’s a de­ci­sion maker be­tween buy­ing at one site ver­sus an­other,” says Aaron Cheris, a part­ner in the San Fran­cisco of­fice of Bain and Co., a man­age­ment con­sult­ing firm.

Free ship­ping is ex­pected, says Luke Knowles, founder of Free Ship­ping Day, a one-day, an­nual on­line-shop­ping event in De­cem­ber. On Dec. 16, 2016, more than 1,000 re­tail­ers of­fered free ship­ping and de­liv­ery by Christ­mas Eve.

Re­tail­ers have an­swered the call for free and swift de­liv­ery in dif­fer­ent ways. Un­der Ama­zon’s sub­scrip­tion model, mem­bers pay a fee to get free ship­ping. Wal-Mart and Best Buy pro­vide free and fast ship­ping if you meet their con­di­tions.

Should you still pay for a sub­scrip­tion? It de­pends. Be­fore you de­cide, con­sider how often you or­der and what you’ll get be­yond ship­ping. Here’s what you should think about.

Low min­i­mums

If your or­ders meet min­i­mum-pur­chase thresh­olds, you can get speedy and free de­liv­ery with­out a sub­scrip­tion from some re­tail­ers.

Wal-Mart an­nounced free two-day ship­ping on el­i­gi­ble or­ders of $35 and above on more than 2 mil­lion items in cat­e­gories from food to elec­tron­ics while elim­i­nat­ing its mem­ber­ship pro­gram in early 2017.

Best Buy of­fers free two-day ship­ping on thou­sands of items for or­ders of $35 and up. Ap­ple boasts free two-day ship­ping on most in-stock prod­ucts.

“The first bat­tle was (over) free,” says Cheris, of Bain and Co. Now, con­sumers have their eyes set on two-day de­liv­ery. “One of the prob­lems with the old, ‘I’ll get it to you in three to five days’ is, well, which is it? Is it three? Is it four? Is it five? The nice thing about two is it’s not only faster, but it’s more spe­cific.”

Fea­tures

Even if free two-day ship­ping be­comes stan­dard, don’t dis­miss subscriptions. Con­sumers should con­sider other fea­tures, Cheris says.

For in­stance, a mem­ber­ship at shop­ping ser­vice ShopRun­ner un­locks free

two-day ship­ping on el­i­gi­ble items at hun­dreds of par­tic­i­pat­ing re­tail­ers. Af­ter a 30-day free trial, the fee is $79 a year or $8.95 a month.

Ama­zon Prime is per­haps the best known of all pro­grams. Af­ter a 30-day free trial, mem­bers pay $99 a year or $10.99 a month to get free two-day ship­ping on more than 50 mil­lion items, plus free same-day and two-hour de­liv­ery on house­hold goods, gro­ceries and other items in se­lect ci­ties. Shop­pers also get video and mu­sic stream­ing.

“The rea­son peo­ple join is for the free, fast ship­ping, but the rea­son they stay is be­cause a lot of them get at­tached to other stuff, whether it’s Prime Now or Prime Pantry or Prime In­stant Video,” Cheris says.

See if you can share your mem­ber­ship and split the price. At Ama­zon, two adults can form an Ama­zon House­hold to share se­lect ben­e­fits of Prime, like free ship­ping and photo stor­age.

A mem­ber­ship to on­line mar­ket­place Google Ex­press can be shared with one per­son in your house­hold at no ad­di­tional cost. Af­ter a three-month free trial, the pro­gram costs $95 a year or $10 a month for free same-day de­liv­ery on el­i­gi­ble or­ders.

Price

When shop­ping with­out a mem­ber­ship, en­sure that a re­tailer with free ship­ping isn’t charg­ing more for its prod­ucts than what you would save on ship­ping.

For ex­am­ple, a pair of Nike run­ning shoes re­cently sold for $48.75 at J.C. Pen­ney with $8.95 ship­ping, for a to­tal of $57.70 be­fore tax. The same item came with free ship­ping at Zap­pos for $65.

Fre­quency

It’s a mat­ter of what you buy, too, says Ma­bel McLean, a di­rec­tor of client strat­egy at L2, a New York-based com­pany that tracks brands’ on­line per­for­mance.

If you make fre­quent on­line pur­chases of items such as pa­per tow­els and clean­ing sup­plies, ship­ping charges can add up, so in­vest­ing in a sub­scrip­tion may be bet­ter.

“It de­pends on how fre­quently you shop the cat­e­gory,” McLean says. “I think pay­ing seven bucks for ship­ping when you’re buy­ing cloth­ing and maybe only or­der on­line five times a year, that’s a lit­tle bit more palat­able than high­er­fre­quency cat­e­gories.”

This ar­ti­cle was pro­vided to The Associated Press by the per­sonal fi­nance web­site NerdWallet.

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