Online shoppers will pay close attention to at least two things this holiday season: shipping costs and return deadlines.
Nowadays, free shipping during the holidays is more of a requirement than a competitive advantage for retailers, according to Christopher Newman, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi.
“Retailers don’t necessarily benefit a lot from offering free shipping, but they definitely run the risk of losing sales if they don’t offer it,” Newman said via email.
Christopher Newman, assistant professor of marketing, University of Mississippi
Retailers don’t necessarily benefit a lot from offering free shipping, but they definitely run the risk of losing sales if they don’t offer it.”
In fact, in a survey of 2,000 American holiday shoppers by Shorr Packaging Corp., 30% of respondents said the thing they dislike the most about online shopping is shipping costs.
Lenient return policies are also important, Newman said. That’s because online shoppers frequently purchase products without seeing them prior, so free and easy returns act as a safeguard in case an item doesn’t work out.
So what should online shoppers expect this holiday season? We took a look at the holiday return and shipping policies at four major retailers, as outlined on their websites. Here are some of the highlights.
It’s better to be a Prime member. Amazon Prime members get unlimited free two-day shipping on eligible items, and non-Prime members get free five-to-eight-day shipping on eligible orders of $25 or more. In some cities, Prime members can use Prime Now on Dec. 24 to get their gifts by the end of the day on Christmas Eve.
Add-on items have special rules. Watch out for so-called add-on items, which are available for purchase only with over $25 of items shipped by Amazon. Amazon says it would be cost-prohibitive to ship these low-priced items on their own.
Returns extend through January. Items shipped by Amazon.com between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 may be returned until Jan. 31 for a full refund, subject to return guidelines.
But return dates can be confusing. Amazon.com’s policy is generous, but the return policies of third-party sellers on Amazon can vary. Consult the Returns and Refunds Policy section on a seller’s profile.
Free shipping lasts all season. Through Dec. 25, shipping is free on just about everything. (Estimated arrival dates are included on the product page.) See Best Buy for full details and exclusions.
Returns are extended. Best Buy says almost every purchase made throughout November and December can be returned through Jan. 14.
But they’re still lacking. While that’s longer than normal, it’s not as long as the Jan. 31 deadline at some competitors.
And rewards members have more time. One of the perks of Best Buy’s loyalty program is extended return periods. For My Best Buy Elite Plus members, Feb. 13 is the last day to return qualifying purchases.
Shipping is on the house. Through Dec. 23, Target is offering standard shipping for free. See the policy online for full details and exclusions.
But some items ship only with $25 orders. In some cases, online shoppers may have to spend more than they planned, because certain low-priced items ship only with orders of at least $25. We found that’s the case with some Christmas decorations, such as gift bows and wrapping paper.
Electronics returns have been extended. Generally, all electronics and entertainment items must be returned within 30 days if you want a refund or exchange. The good news? The 30-day refund period begins Dec. 26 for such items purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25.
Free shipping is fast, but the minimum is $35. You’ll get free shipping in two days, or three to five days in some cases, on eligible orders of $35 or more. See Walmart's website for full details and exclusions.
Return windows are longer. Shoppers will have extra time to return some orders placed between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25. Walmart says the window for items with 15-day or 30-day return policies won’t start until Dec. 26.
See each retailer for full policies, as some exclusions and exceptions apply.