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Opinion: Think Twice Before Selecting Free Shipping This Holiday Season

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Free shipping is a popular feature of many websites, especially during the holidays, but of course, it’s important to remember the old adage about getting you get what you pay for.

FedEx’s SmartPost and UPS’s Mail Innovations, the delivery services most often employed when you check that “Free Shipping” box, attempt to save some cash by shipping large pallets of packages to local distributors, who then deliver them to your local post office for delivery to your house. This is all well and good, but if you’re planning on a timely delivery, you may want to pony up that extra couple bucks this holiday season.

I used to get stuff from Best Buy in a timely manner, even with free shipping. They based their shipping operations within 20 miles of my house in Pennsylvania, and it was dependable for me to get stuff within two days or so without paying an extra penny. Now they’ve moved shipping operations to Ohio, and everything has changed. Packages take five to sayven days to travel the 500-ish miles to my house, and I literally received my last Black Friday order from them earlier this week

USPS Media Mail typically gets Amazon shipments from Kentucky to here in two or three days, four at the outside. While Amazon likely fills pallets at record pace, any time they opt for the outsourced methods, it becomes as much as five days.

So before you choose free shipping at checkout this holiday season, think twice before choosing the free shipping, and make sure you have at least seven to ten business days (as the commercial shippers don’t move on weekends) for your package to arrive, and an additional day or two for them to fill a pallet and get it out the door. That means that if you haven’t ordered by today, it’s probably a good idea to investigate the shipping methods of anyone who isn’t guaranteeing Christmas delivery. In my experience, the post office is still the fastest, cheapest, and most reliable way to ship your stuff, so if you need your stuff in a timely manner, support your local postman who wades through the snow and heat to put it into your hot little hands and make sure you’re shipping at least First Class mail.

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