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'Free Shipping Day' Is Today, Dec. 18

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? If you want to get those items in time for Christmas and not pay hefty shipping fees, Dec. 18 happens to be Free Shipping Day.

Now in its fifth year, the day and site, created by FreeShipping.org founder Luke Knowles, is meant to inform last-minute online holiday shoppers where to get their orders in so they are delivered by Christmas Eve on Dec. 24 -- without being penalized with high shipping prices.

This year, 930 stores are participating in the day's event, which is roughly 40% lower than in 2012. 

That's because the #FreeShippingDay founders wanted to improve user experience this year by making sure stores were truly offering free shipping. This year, retailers that participate in the day must waive all minimum order thresholds as well as guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve.

"This is not something every store is willing to do and so some opted not to participate. We knew it was a risk to make requirements [stricter], however we're focusing more heavily on user experience and we know shoppers want real free shipping," said spokeswoman Kendal Perez.

 

Requiring stores to offer "real" free shipping, means some retailers, like Amazon (AMZN), opted not to participate, Perez said. However, she adds that Amazon changed its last day for shoppers to get free shipping on orders of $35 and delivery by Christmas Eve from Dec. 17 to Dec. 18.

So does the day still have significance? Free shipping has become this year's retail commodity, and could mean the day won't see the more than $1 billion in sales it saw last year.

"It used to be a big deal because retailers didn't offer free shipping," said Rob Gough, co-founder of coupon shopping sites CouponChad.com and DefinitiveDeals.com. "Consumers expect it this year."

Even stores that traditionally stayed away from mass merchant promos like Bloomingdale's is offering free shipping until Dec. 21, Gough added.

Holiday online spending (desktop only) for the first 39 days through Dec. 9 totaled $31.5 billion, up 9% year over year, according to comScore. Cyber Monday, which fell on Dec. 2 this year, brought in $1.7 billion, the top online spending day for the month. eBay (EBAY) manufactured Green Monday, which fell this year on Dec. 9, brought in $1.4 billion, making it the third highest online spending day of the season.

"Even if there are fewer [store] participants this year, many consumers are trying to get their online holiday shopping done this week to ensure packages arrive in time for Christmas," said Andrew Lipsman, comScore's vice president of marketing and insights. "Given the shorter holiday season this year (26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas vs. 32 last year), the pressure is on for consumers to get their shopping done so this week -- and particularly Free Shipping Day -- should see some aggressive last-minute buying."

Retailers are pulling out all the stops to reach those last-minutes shoppers, so consumers shopping Wednesday shouldn't just settle for free shipping; many stores or offering additional discounts that can be combined for more savings, according to BeFrugal.com founder Jon Lal.

"Many stores are having site-wide sales overlapping with Free Shipping Day. Using coupon codes can yield additional dollars off your total bill," Lal wrote in an email.

 -- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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