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By Brad Tuttle
Updated: December 11, 2020 9:05 AM ET | Originally published: December 5, 2020
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It’s the holiday shopping season, the clock is ticking, and there’s an even greater chance than usual you want to avoid crowded stores.

What to do? Unsurprisingly, the answer is to continue what you’ve probably been doing for most of a year dominated by a pandemic: shop online. The problem is that the huge increase in online shopping is beginning to lead to shipping delays, which may get worse as Christmas Day 2020 nears. What’s more, delivery fees can add to the complications and often seem unavoidable, especially if you’re a procrastinator who needs super-fast shipping at the last minute.

To avoid the fees and get your goods delivered promptly, it’s important to know how and where to get that magical combination of shipping that’s free and fast. The simplest option for shoppers is to sign up for a subscription service offering unlimited free delivery of orders that often arrive within a couple days, or even on the same day. Amazon Prime is one such delivery service, and the biggest player in the category. Walmart+ is another, and the company just made it easier for members to get free shipping by dropping the $35 minimum purchase requirement for most orders.

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Bear in mind that these “free” delivery services should come with an asterisk — because they typically come with a monthly or annual fee. Before you commit and cough up cash for a subscription, take advantage of free trials that generally last from 15 to 30 days. There’s no better time of year than now, when you’re sure to be ordering online, to test these services out.

It’s also good to take into account the free shipping options that require no subscription or fees whatsoever, because then there’s no risk of forgetting to cancel a service before the trial ends and you’re charged. And remember: There are likely to be some shipping delays in the weeks ahead, so, if possible, shoot for deliveries that will arrive at least a day or two before you really need them.

Below, you’ll find all the information you need to know about subscribing to delivery services and scoring free shipping, as fast as possible, from five major retailers, plus details on one shipping service that provides free two-day shipping from dozens of stores.

Walmart and Walmart+

With a Walmart+ subscription, you’ll get free grocery delivery for all orders of $35 or more, plus free shipping on other items from Walmart.com with no minimum required. Walmart+ costs $98 per year or $12.95 per month, after a 15-day free trial, and most orders are eligible for next-day or two-day shipping.

In addition to free shipping, Walmart+ subscribers get a couple of extra perks: 5% off fuel purchases at Walmart and Murphy USA gas stations, and Scan-and-Go purchases in the store, to speed the checkout process with your smartphone.

On the other hand, it’s also easy to get free shipping for Walmart.com purchases without paying any subscription fee. Most non-grocery items at the site are eligible for free two-day shipping without Walmart+ subscriptions, so long as each order hits the $35 minimum purchase.

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Walmart+

Cost: $98 per year or $12.95 per month, after 15-day free trial
Fastest Delivery: Next-day
Minimum Purchase: $35 for groceries, $0 for other items
Extras: 5% off at partner gas stations
Other Options: Free 2-day delivery with $35 purchase

Target and Shipt

Target’s Shipt subscription service normally costs $99 a year and gives members unlimited fast and free delivery for orders of $35 or more. There are some holiday season deals, though. Now through December 27., 2020, special Shipt promotions are offering a one-year subscription for $49 to new subscribers, or half-price passes that give three deliveries for $13.50 (normally $27) or five deliveries for $20 (normally $40). All of these deliveries still require a $35 minimum purchase, and there’s a $7 fee for orders with alcohol.

Shipt subscribers can get same-day or one-day delivery of groceries and other goods sold by Target through the service, and new subscribers can try out Shipt for four weeks for free. If you’re a regular Target shopper, stay on the lookout for an even more generous free trial: During the 2020 winter holiday shopping season, we’ve heard of people being offered a Shipt free trial that lasts a full six months.

Shipt subscribers aren’t limited to shopping just at Target, mind you. Members can also get delivery from retailers like Costco, CVS, Petco, and Office Depot, though there are sometimes markups when you’re ordering from a store other than Target, which owns Shipt.

Depending on your shopping habits, you may not really need a Shipt membership to get free Target delivery that’s speedy enough. Anyone with a Target RedCard — available as a credit card or debit card — already gets free shipping on non-grocery purchases at Target.com, and many items at the site are eligible for quick (two-day) delivery. There’s no minimum purchase required, no annual fee for the Target RedCard, and shoppers get 5% off all Target purchases as a sweet bonus.

If you don’t have a RedCard or a Shipt membership, you can still get free two-day shipping on most Target purchases, but there is a $35 minimum purchase requirement.

Target Shipt

Cost: $99 per year after free 4-week trial
Fastest Delivery: Same-day
Minimum Purchase: $35
Extras: Delivery for other retailers, like Costco and CVS
Other Options: Free 2-day shipping for RedCard holders

Amazon and Amazon Prime

It’s pretty obvious how to get fast free shipping from Amazon: All you need is a Prime subscription, and you’re good to go. Prime subscribers get multiple free shipping options, including grocery delivery in as little as two hours from Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods, and same-, one-, or two-day delivery on most other things purchased at Amazon.com. In some cases, there is a $35 minimum purchase required for Prime members to be eligible for the fastest delivery at no charge.

For most people, Amazon Prime costs $119 a year. But there are ways to pay less, starting with a 30-day free trial for new subscribers. There’s probably no better time of year to test out Prime and see if you like it than around the holidays, when you are most likely to take advantage of the free shipping perk (and streaming Amazon Video movies and TV shows while you’re taking off from work). You can also subscribe to Prime on a monthly basis ($12.99) and pay for it only during the key times of year when you really use it. Yet another way to save is with the special 50% off discount, available to eligible students, EBT debit card holders, and others who receive government assistance.

If you’re not a Prime member, free shipping at Amazon is still available on most purchases with a $25 minimum order. Bear in mind that non-Prime members shouldn’t expect free shipping to be fast — Amazon generally says delivery occurs within five to eight days with this option — but, anecdotally, many of these deliveries are completed within a few days. Also, non-Prime members should be careful when doing their virtual checkout: Amazon constantly nudges customers into signing up for Prime, and when that mission fails the site often defers to a “standard” shipping option, which incurs a fee. Shoppers must then select the “FREE” option, which will have the slowest delivery.

Amazon Prime

Cost: $119 per year or $12.99 per month after 30-day free trial
Fastest Delivery: Same-day
Minimum Purchase: None or $35
Extras: Unlimited streaming of video and music content
Other Options: Free (slow) shipping with $25 purchase

Best Buy

Best Buy offers free next-day shipping on thousands of items. While there’s a minimum-purchase requirement of $35, that’s a pretty easy mark to reach for the kinds of electronics and appliances most people buy from this retailer.

Be aware, however, that not all items qualify for free shipping. If something’s not available in a nearby store or warehouse, you may not be able to get it shipped for free. Larger items, including TVs measuring 51 inches or larger, are also likely to incur delivery fees. If your order comes with a hefty delivery fee, check to see if free curbside pickup at your local Best Buy is possible.

Best Buy

Cost: $0
Fastest Delivery: Next-day
Minimum Purchase: $35
Other Options: Free curbside pickup

Macy’s

Now through December 10, every Macy’s shopper gets free shipping with a $25 minimum purchase. (Normally, there’s a $49 minimum required.) If you make purchases using a Macy’s credit card, you get free shipping on all orders from the site, with no minimum required, throughout the year.

How fast are these free shipping options from Macy’s? They qualify only for “standard” delivery, which generally is completed within three to six days. For faster shipping, including the possibility of same-day delivery for certain items, you’ll have to pay up. The fees vary widely, from $10 to $26 depending on the shipping speed, your status as a Macy’s cardholder, and availability.

Macy’s

Cost: $0 or varies
Fastest Delivery: Same-day
Minimum Purchase: Usually $25 to $49
Other Options: Free standard shipping with $25 purchase

ShopRunner

Finally, consider ShopRunner if you’re looking for fast free shipping. ShopRunner is a service that provides free two-day delivery from over 100 retailers, including popular spots to shop for gifts like Bloomingdale’s, American Eagle, J. Jill, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger, Brooks Brothers, TaylorMade, Lenovo, and Peet’s Coffee. Members get free return shipping from participating retailers as well.

A ShopRunner membership normally costs $79 a year, but it’s easy to get a free subscription. If you enroll with any American Express credit card or Mastercard, membership is free indefinitely. Others can sign up right now for a free ShopRunner trial that lasts a full year before you’re charged.

ShopRunner

Cost: $0 or $79 per year
Fastest Delivery: Two-day
Minimum Purchase: Usually none
Other Options: Most retailers also have their own free shipping promotions

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