How to Get Your Gifts to Show Up On Time

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- If you're shopping online this holiday season or are giving gifts to folks who aren't within a quick drive, chances are you're shipping some presents. Don't blow it.

The National Retail Federation's digital branch,, found that 51.8% of the consumers it surveyed will shop online for gifts this year, up from 46.7% last year. forecasts that online sales will jump 12% over last year's holiday shopping season and fall between $92 billion and $96 billion. Meanwhile, 10% of all online shoppers told market research firm NPD Group they'd be willing to spend more this holiday season.

That's all well and good, but any online holiday shopper who's been around a time or two knows not all shipping options are the merry solution consumers are hoping for. Those elves working behind the scenes can turn into gremlins when shipping costs get too high, packages take too long to arrive or your precious cargo gets bounced around as if it were being kicked by reindeer the whole way.

If you're looking to avoid all of that hassle and have all of your presents arrive safely, promptly and inexpensively, we offer these three pillars of advice for exceptional holiday shipping:

Price: Get it free
If cost is your top concern around the holidays, free shipping should be standard anywhere you shop.

It's not exactly a rarity these days, either. Retailers including Amazon ( AMZN), Macy's ( M), Home Depot ( HD), Lowe's ( LOW) and J.C. Penney ( JCP) will throw it your way when you hit certain spending thresholds, but Best Buy ( BBY), Blue Nile ( NILE), Nordstrom ( JWN), Saks ( SKS) Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and L.L. Bean will ship for free no matter what you spend. It tends to work out for them, too, as 19% of all shoppers tell they're willing to spend full price on an item if it comes with free shipping.

Last year, market research group ComScore ( SCOR) found that 56% of all online shoppers opted for free shipping, up from 50% just a year before. Those freeloaders tend to spend more freely, too. They spent an average of $118 on orders with free shipping, compared to the average $100 spent by folks who paid for shipping.

After last year's holiday season, surveyed 52 online retailers and asked them to rank the top marketing tools they used to drive sales. Discounts still came in first, but free shipping without conditions and free shipping with a minimum purchase requirement ranked second and third, respectively.

Of those retailers, 57.4% said they would keep their free shipping programs the same this holiday season as they were last year, 29.8% said they would sweeten their free shipping offers somewhat and 6.4% said they would expand free shipping deals significantly. Only 6.4% said they would offer fewer free shipping offers. If a consumer's favorite store falls into that latter group of Scrooges, don't worry: They'll usually take part in Free Shipping Day on Dec. 17 and have that present on your doorstep by Christmas Day.

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