I love Christmas shopping. Seeing kids dressed in cozy sweaters for photos with Santa and finding the perfect gift fill me with that holiday cheer people sing about in Christmas carols. However, sometimes it’s nice to do some shopping from my own living room. Online shopping is not only convenient, but occasionally it’s necessary in order to purchase some hard-to-find items or pricey products.
This week, Daily Finance reported that 52 percent of the people surveyed by the National Retail Federation plan to shop online — that’s an eight percent increase over 2012. The ease of online shopping is a big draw, especially when free shipping is available. Aside from retail websites that offer free shipping every day or with a minimum purchase, there are members-only shopping services like Amazon Prime and ShopRunner that require a yearly fee to earn shipping privileges. Both Amazon and ShopRunner offer free month-long trials, though, and now is the ideal time to give them a test drive. Signing up for a free trial at this time ensures you will receive free shipping benefits through Christmas.
Each of the services mentioned above offers free two-day shipping for paying members, but there are some other differences.
ShopRunner (www.shoprunner.com) works with numerous online retailers, like Toys R Us, American Eagle Outfitters, GNC, MacMall, Petsmart and more. Participating purchases from each retailer ship for free, plus the site offers its members exclusive discounts.
Other member benefits include automatic receipt organization, free returns, an iPhone app and the ability to share a membership with up to four friends, all for the price of $79 per year or $8.95 month-to-month. Split up that cost with four friends and the investment falls to a manageable $16 per person annually.
It’s also possible to earn back some of the service fee by inviting friends to join ShopRunner. Members will earn $10 back every time a person activates and purchases a ShopRunner account from a member’s online invitation.
Trial memberships include all of the perks of paid memberships, but if you don’t want to continue the service after the trial, be sure to opt out of automatic enrollment at the end of 30 days. From time to time, ShopRunner offers free yearly memberships. If you ever spot one of these offers, snatch it up while you can.
For shoppers who can find most anything they want on Amazon, this is probably the best option. The biggest incentives Amazon Prime gives its members are free two-day shipping for qualifying purchases, free instant video streaming and access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Prime is also offered at $79 per year, but there’s no month-to-month plan available. And, similar to ShopRunner, a credit card will automatically be charged if the trial member doesn’t opt out of automatic enrollment at the end of 30 days.
It’s possible to lower the annual fee for the service by splitting the cost, though. Prime allows members to share the service with up to four people. However, these “guest” memberships only include shipping benefits, not instant streaming or the Lending Library.
Parents who are interested in Amazon Prime should consider joining Amazon Mom. For the same annual fee, Amazon Mom members receive the perks of Amazon Prime, plus discounts on diapers, wipes and “family essentials” such as laundry detergent and soap.
There’s also an option for students. Amazon Student offers new members six months of two-day shipping for free. This is a stripped-down version of Amazon Prime, but after the inaugural six months a discounted membership upgrade that includes instant streaming and access to the Lending Library is available for $39 per year, up to four years.
Free Shipping Day
Not interested in either of those services? Free Shipping Day (www.freeshippingday.com) is right around the corner, on Dec. 18. The first Free Shipping Day was held in 2008 and the online event has grown ever since. According to the website, the number of merchants who participate has grown 10 times in three years.
The concept is simple: Merchants agree to participate and offer free shipping and delivery by Christmas Eve. The shipping may not be as fast as what the paid services above offer, but it’s free nonetheless. No strings attached.
So far, there are at least 448 online merchants participating in 2013, including popular names such as Cabela’s, Kay Jewelers, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Elizabeth Arden and Belk. Some retailers are offering additional discounts, as well. All of the offers for the big day will be released just after midnight on Dec. 18.