The major carriers have announced price increases for early 2016 but the holiday season is still expected to be a buyer’s market. Major retailers will again offer free shipping deals, free returns, and easy in-store pickup for those seeking that option.

Target will cut in half its minimum purchase to qualify for free shipping to $25, and Best Buy recently announced it has waived its $35 free shipping threshold through January. Toys R Us is another big holiday retailer slashing its minimum threshold. Walmart is keeping its free shipping threshold at $50, but hopes to boost online another way with a new mobile check-in feature on its smartphone app. Shoppers who have placed orders in advance for in-store pickup can check in as soon as they enter the store, alerting employees to get orders ready and speed the process along.

And in a further effort to stand out in the online shopping battles, some retailers are extending their “free’ offering to returns, including both Target and Best Buy. Even PayPal is getting in on the action. The payment service said it will reimburse its U.S. customers' shipping costs for up to four returns of items purchased during the holidays.

However, a small hangover may await consumers after the holidays. FedEx and UPS announced they will raise list prices by about 5 percent on average in early January. Both companies have also raised their fuel surcharges, despite the plummeting price of diesel fuel. And the Postal Service has proposed a January increase in its competitive products, including a 9.8 percent hike on Priority Mail. Commercial customers that send lightweight parcels under the Parcel Select service will see a whopping 23.5 percent increase on average.

At some point, online retailers will have to pass some of those costs on to customers. But few experts expect free shipping to disappear completely. Too many consumers now simply expect it when they order online, at least for orders of a certain amount or type. Still, retailers will look to recoup increased shipping costs somewhere, possibly baking them into the price of products.  

Will you shop online this holiday season? How important is free shipping to you? Do you see your shipping habits changing if retailers pass on the increase in shipping costs to consumers?

Comments (2)

  • anon

    I bought a Christmas gift for my son for his very first Christmas which was to be delivered by USPS. The tracking information says that it was delivered but I never received the package till date. USPS leaves packges inside my building within locked doors, hence there is no chance that the package was stolen. I sent a complaint email to you customer service last week whose confirmation number is HQ125982726, but neither did I receive any reply from your customer service nor a followup from your office. I also tried calling your number, but was never put to a customer service representative. What should have been a Christmas celebration for my little one has turned out to be an ordeal for me. Could some one please help me locate my package or will I have to now make a visit to my local post office? Could someone responsible help me?

    Dec 18, 2015
  • anon

    I mailed a package on dec 4 2015 from hickory NC to Spartanberg SC. First of all it took 6 days to reach the package at destination and then it was empty envelope delivered to my customer. i am really disappointed that they can deliver an empty envelope and not once anybody try to find the content of this envelope. The sad part is that no body is helping me to find this content. there must be somebody who handled this package and it was empty but never bother to find the content of this package i had about $900 worth of merchandize in it. very very mad at usps i am going to go to UPS or Fedex from now on

    Dec 17, 2015

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