December 14, 2017
Mike Cassidy
Mike is lead storyteller at Signifyd. A former journalist, he covers e-commerce and the way automation is changing digital commerce. He's a retail geek. And, as a White Sox fan, he's also resilient.

Free Shipping Day Provides Merchants an Opportunity — And a Test

So, you’ve made it through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and Green Monday, only to find yourself staring down the barrel of Free Shipping Day, which dawns tomorrow — Dec. 15. 

You can do this.

In fact, Free Shipping Day is a day made for those who toil in ecommerce. It is the day, if you didn’t know, when more than a thousand ecommerce retailers, big and small, come together and promise their customers that they will get their orders to their proper destinations by Christmas Eve — no charge.

“We definitely get a lot of enthusiasm each year for participation in the event, as it gets to be more and more recognized,” says Free Shipping Day spokeswoman Kendal Perez.

Like the holiday shopping season itself, Shipping Day presents a big opportunity — and a big challenge — for retailers and especially for the back end of their operations. If all goes as planned, orders will spike, meaning a bigger load on order management, fraud screening, picking and packing, delivery and customer support. (Seems like a good day to refer to our tips on dealing with the holiday surge in orders.) 

The fact is, more orders is the whole point. Exactly how many more orders is a little hard to pin down. No question, the day is growing in volume. When Colorado retail entrepreneur Luke Knowles launched the day with 225 merchants in 2008, online revenue hit $764 million in revenue on Free Shipping Day. Last year, revenue was nearly double that, surpassing $1.5 billion, according to Adobe Digital Insights.

The totals are for online shopping, so they include retailers who did not participate in Free Shipping Day, but you get the idea.

Free Shipping Day is a chance to shine

In the age of Amazon, such a promise, nearly 10 days out, sounds a little quaint. But consumers often cite free shipping as one of the most important factors in whether to order from a given online retailer. And it’s good to remember that most retailers aren’t Amazon, and the shopping holiday is a good chance for them to show new customers — and even loyal ones — what they can deliver in retail’s busiest season. 

Smaller retailers find a particular advantage in the media buzz and promotion surrounding the day, Perez explained.

“Small, independent retailers can have their logo and their offers on our website next to the Walmarts and the Targets and get really awesome exposure for nothing,” she says. “We don’t require people to pay to participate. They just have to be able to offer free shipping on all orders on the 15th, and be able to promise delivery by Dec. 24.”

Perez acknowledges that “free shipping” doesn’t sound as sexy as it did nine years ago when Knowles, who runs online coupon company Kinoli, launched the holiday with 10 days notice. He was inspired, by the way, when he noticed that online shipping dropped off in mid-December, presumably as consumers became worried about digital orders being delivered by Christmas.

But Perez points out that the very phrase “free shipping” has been diluted a bit over the years. Is a retailer really offering free shipping, for instance, if there is a minimum order required? And what about Amazon Prime, that free shipping offer that seems as natural as the air we breathe? 

“People say, ‘Well you can get free shipping from anybody, all the time, all year round.’ And I’m kind of the nerd who says, ‘Well, wait a minute. It’s not free shipping if there is a threshold. It’s not free shipping if you’re paying 100 bucks a year,” Perez says. “But that’s kind of hard to compete with.” 

Still, it never hurts to try.

Photo by Mike Cassidy

Contact Mike Cassidy at; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.