Put a Lid on Shipping Fees

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The price of a clock radio we found at Target.com: $9.99. The cost of shipping and handling said clock: $6.13. That's reasonable, based on what UPS or the post office would have charged, but who wants to pay two-thirds of a product's price to have it sent? Especially at holiday time, you'll want to avoid S&H gotchas. Here's how:

Look for free shipping

Check retailer websites or search for "free shipping coupons." A few sites, including Shoes.com and Zappos.com, ship free to you and from you (for returns).

Wait for the charge

Some online merchants don't provide even an estimate of shipping fees until you're almost through checkout. Don't authorize payment until you know all of the charges.

Calculate what 'free' costs

Sellers of infomercial products and those on auction sites sometimes use S&H charges to compensate for low-priced or "free" products. It would have cost us $56.84 to order a $19.99 Awesome Auger tool plus a "free" power drill, weeder, and power extender.

Buy at a walk-in store

That eliminates shipping and handling. Some retailers, including Walmart and Staples, let you buy online and ship the item to a local store at no charge.

Be sure you'll like the product

You must usually pay to ship back unwanted items. Research carefully before you buy, and make sure gifts are wanted.

Find out about breakage or loss

Read and print out the retailer's shipping policy. With some retailers, you assume the risk of damage or loss when the product is delivered to the mail carrier, not to your door. Some carriers accept liability for items shipped within the U.S. (UPS and FedEx cover items up to $100; the U.S. Postal Service automatically provides $100 insurance for Express Mail only.) You might need the retailer to process a claim and forward any payment.

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