‘Tis the season for free shipping.
This holiday season, a growing number of retailers are looking to woo consumers not only with the hottest new products, but also with the hottest shipping rates -- including many that promise free delivery.
On Tuesday, Target became the latest major retailer to wade into what’s unofficially being called a holiday shipping war, offering free two-day shipping on most of its products with no minimum purchase or membership fee.
The Minneapolis-based chain’s shipping deal will run between Nov. 1 and Dec. 22.
“We believe that we have long offered an attractive shipping offer for our guests,” Eddie Baeb, a spokesperson for Target, told NBC News. “We think our new offer of no membership required and free shipping is one of the best that consumers can find this holiday season.”
Target’s new free-shipping promotion is similar to shipping deals afforded to Amazon Prime subscribers, who enjoy free two-day shipping on a wide range of products on a year-round basis in exchange for an annual Prime membership subscription fee of $119 a year.
Amazon is now sweetening its free-shipping deal, offering Prime subscribers free one-day shipping on items priced $35 and up.
Walmart is also getting in on this holiday season’s growing shipping war, offering free two-day shipping on orders $35 and up.
Retail analysts say free shipping is something consumers are coming to expect from retailers.
“At the end of the day, customers want to feel like they are saving money,” said Hitha Herzog, a retail analyst for H Squared Research.
And for retailers, free shipping is a means of maintaining a competitive edge.
“Free shipping has become critical,” Herzog said. “It ensures customers come to your store -- and your store only.”
According to a recent consumer survey conducted by Deloitte, 88 percent of consumers say it’s more important to have their packages shipped for free than to get them fast.
Target’s latest promotion is part of a larger push that includes same-day delivery in 46 states via Shipt, an Alabama-based grocery delivery business Target purchased earlier this year. Shipt uses a nationwide network of shoppers who purchase items from customers’ nearest Target stores and deliver them within hours.
Target is additionally offering Drive Up delivery service in 1,000 stores. The curbside service will make 250,000 items ready for pickup within an hour of being ordered on an app. The same products can also be purchased online and picked up instore usually within an hour.
Walmart is working to make it easier for customers to return unwanted items purchased online. Beginning in mid-November, shoppers can bring their boxed returns to the service desk of any Walmart store for shipping to the seller.
Analysts say the increasingly competitive world of shipping is related to a growing awareness on the part of retailers of how consumers are shopping. Online shopping is expected to grow 20 percent this holiday season, to more than $120 billion.
Herzog says customers won’t be charged higher prices for products because of the free shipping deals.
“It’s not the consumer who's going to be paying for free shipping deals,” Herzog told NBC. “The vendors or companies supplying the product [to retailers] will bear the cost.”
Herzog’s advice to consumers? Shop around for the best shipping rates this holiday season.
“These days, retailers are making it easy for consumers,” she said. “During the holiday season, consumers should always look for deals.”