Thirteen Ways to Get Free Shipping When Bargain Shopping

Dear Readers,

Here's a question from S/20 reader Becky:
I just discovered your website and absolutely loooove it! I'm bummed that I missed all of these amazing deals but I so am excited for what is to come! I was wondering if you had any tips for minimizing shipping costs or had suggestions as to where to find coupon codes for the sites. The deals are amazing but shipping rates put a damper on the fun. Thank you so much for your advice and I look forward to the deals!
Great question, Becky! We definitely have been faced with the shipping conundrum many times ourselves. It almost seems more wasteful to buy something under twenty bucks and get hit with the $7.95 charge than if you're plunking down a good chunk of change, doesn't it? We have a bunch of little ways we deal with shipping costs and we'd love to hear what readers have to say!

1. Retailmenot: This is S's go-to site, so much so that she's got the link bookmarked on her Firefox toolbar! This is a fantastic site that aggregates coupon codes, including a bunch of free shipping ones, and users can note if the coupon worded for them or not. The coupons are sorted by rating, so you can try the ones that have been most successful first. But don't give up! Sometimes there are ones with lower than 30% successful that will randomly work. So work your way down the list! There are a bunch of major sites that don't allow user submissions so move down the list of options for those.

2. CouponCabin: N uses CouponCabin for the same thing. There are a bunch of user-submitted sites like these and they sometimes have different coupons available so go ahead and try the whole lot.

3. Google: Yes, readers, the big Dr. G. Yeah, I can't believe I just typed that. When searching Google, I usually type in something like [StoreName "coupon code"] and follow that up with [StoreName promotion] and [StoreName discount] to see if I hit upon everything. HINT: On the little toolbar on top of the page of search results, click "more options" and limit to past month (or whatever recent dates). That way, you can be sure you're not plugging in 2006 codes (although those sometimes work too!).

4. Google Blogsearch: You've already done the Google thing, but Google blogsearch is a whole different animal. Here's where you get all the fabulous bloggers of the internet typing up the coupon codes they got in the mail, and sometimes even putting up the personalized ones they received because they won't be using them. Use the same searches that you used for Google. Make sure you also limit to the last month or so.

5. Tons of forums: There's plenty of forums focused exclusively on bargain shopping (we'd love to hear your favorites!) but I've also had good luck connecting with people on forums I actually participate on and asking to exchange shipping codes - sometimes for another code (i.e. let's trade your reward Gap code for my reward Victoria's Secret code) and sometimes just because they're nice enough to trade it because they won't be using it themselves.

6. Store email lists: Sign up for the email list for your most visited shops. Subscribers to the lists often get 15% or more %off coupons just for subscribing (and hey, if that covers shipping, I'd call it free shipping!) and subscribers also get earliest notice about free shipping sales. Sometimes they're the only ones who get access!

7. Google Shopping: I'm always surprised how many people don't know about the Google product search. It's fantastic to search for a product that is available at numerous stores, and you can limit to "free shipping" and/or sort by price+shipping to your zip code. Again, to me, gettting a product+shipping at one store that's cheaper than the product alone at another counts as free shipping!

8. Ebates: EVERYONE who shops on the internet should get an ebates account immediately. Launching your purchases from there gets you between 1-20% back (more during holidays) on many stores on the web. Free money! If you can get back through Ebates what your shipping was, call it free shipping! Full disclosure: clicking on that link and signing up gets S/20 a referral bonus. If you'd prefer not to participate, you can type ebates.com into your address bar.

9. ebay and Amazon and Zappos, among others: Ebay and Amazon are amazing sources of cheaper deals on the same products at regular storefronts. Often, the same products offered by the seller through Amazon will qualify for Free Super Saver Shipping (on purchases above $25). ebay has an option to limit your searches to Free Shipping searches. Although eBay has a reputation for being a site to buy used goods, many, many storefronts and sellers sell items in brand new condition. Amazon Prime is a fantastic option for those of you who do a lot of internet shopping. You get free 2-day shipping on a majority of the site's products. Click for a free one-month trial. Definitely worth it to try and cancel, trust me, and you might find it worthwhile to keep around. HINT: You can split Amazon Prime with one or more households, i.e. put in different addresses and credit cards but just share the Prime account, so it's even cheaper! And Zappos is definitely no longer just shoes, and has free shipping and free returns year round. I look here first for almost any clothing or shoe need.

10. Get the credit card: If there's a store you shop at all the time (uh, Gap&Co for me), it might be worth it to get the branded credit card. They often offer members free shipping deals and/or cashback that fights the shipping costs.

11. Buy and return: A lot of online stores have a free shipping over X amount policy. When the store also has a "return to store" policy, I just buy a bunch of things I intend to return to get above the amount needed for free shipping. WARNING: Requires lots of willpower, both to decide to return and to actually make it to the store. But most stores won't charge you for the shipping on the item you're keeping, even when you return the rest.

12. Ask: This might be truer for smaller retailers, but you're always within your rights as a consumer to ask for free shipping. With an etsy store, you might note that you've made a lot of purchases recently or referred a number of sales. With a bigger store, call and let them know you're a regular customer. Letting them know you're a blogger, twitter user, whatever, certainly cant hurt. If that seems too brazen, email customer service and ask when their next promotion is coming up. If it's a sale that shaves off the shipping costs, you're set! Hey, they might even like your nice email so much they send a coupon code in your direction.

13. Get thee to a store: If the shipping is really getting you, close down the internet salesman. Turn off the laptop and limit yourself to things you can see in front of you and walk out of the store with. Instant gratification is still the best!

What do you think, readers? Any tips to add? Any forums, blogs, or listservs you frequent? Any insiders out there want to give some advice?

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