In addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the lesser-known Free Shipping Day gives last-minute holiday shoppers a final chance to save. But it's not as big as it used to be, thanks to the post-pandemic market.

Each year, U.S. holiday shoppers have three key dates to look forward to:

  • The day after Thanksgiving: Black Friday
  • The Monday after Thanksgiving: Cyber Monday
  • Three days after Christmas: The day Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You stops playing in Target

But did you know there’s a lesser-known shopping holiday that many folks miss?

It’s called Free Shipping Day, and as the name implies, it’s a chance for holiday shoppers to save a few bucks on last-minute gifts.

So how does it work? When is it? Which retailers are participating in 2022, and is it worth marking your calendar for?

Lastly, why haven’t you heard of it?

What is Free Shipping Day?

Free Shipping Day, which typically takes place around mid-December each year, is a lesser-known “holiday” when online retailers offer free shipping on pretty much everything in their inventory. This year, it falls on December 14.

As you probably surmised, this special online shopping holiday was conceived in the good ol’ US of A. Back in 2008, Luke and Maisie Knowles — the power couple behind Coupon Sherpa and later Kinoli — noticed that consumer spending dropped off a cliff after Black Friday, since the sales were over and nobody wanted to pay for shipping.

After all, free shipping was a rare treat back then.

MRW it’s 2008 and I’m offered free shipping on my Coldplay CD | Source: Giphy.com

So, to kill two birds with one stone, they came up with Free Shipping Day. This would not only increase consumer spending, but it would also help holiday shoppers get comfortable with the idea of buying stuff online in the first place.

And boy, was it a hit. By 2011, spending on Free Shipping Day soared to over $1 billion, eclipsing Black Friday itself.

In 2013, the Knowleses changed the rules, saying you could only participate as a merchant if you could guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve. And while that led to a drop-off in smaller merchants, big hitters like Target and JCPenney doubled down.

Now, if Free Shipping Day is clearly a way to get people to buy more stuff, and the big retailers are in on it, why haven’t you heard of it?

Why haven’t I heard of Free Shipping Day?

Over 300 retailers participated in Free Shipping Day 2021, according to Coupon Cabin, which begs the question: why haven’t most people heard of it? Where’s all the marketing?

The short answer is: Free Shipping Day has become a much quieter shopping holiday since the pandemic. While 300 major retailers sounds like a lot, it’s way, way down from the 1,000+ that participated in 2017.

It’s not a stretch to say that COVID killed Free Shipping Day, and I think it’s probably for two big reasons:

  • It’s become increasingly difficult for merchants to guarantee delivery dates. That’s because holiday shipping delays were a thing even before COVID, and nowadays, some folks don’t get their Christmas cards until mid-January. Packages are regularly lost, stolen, or damaged during the holiday shipping frenzy, and the big online retailers — who are already hurting due to inflation — don’t want to risk refunds and 1-star reviews based on factors outside their control.
  • The other key purpose of Free Shipping Day — namely, to get consumers comfortable with buying stuff online — just isn’t relevant anymore. Unlike consumers in 2008, consumers in 2022 aren’t just fluent in online shopping — they prefer it.

So, is Free Shipping Day totally dead, and worth removing from your holiday shopping calendar?

Well, not necessarily. Let’s examine what’s left and where you might be able to save a little money, starting with which retailers might participate this year.

Which retailers are participating in Free Shipping Day 2022?

At the time of this writing, the holiday’s official website — FreeShippingDay.com — is dead, with no “site maintenance”-style placeholder nor any sort of URL redirect.

That makes it kinda hard to predict which retailers will participate this year, since that website used to host an RSVP list.

But hope is not lost; chances are a good portion of the companies that participated last year will do something again this year, whether it’s free shipping, steep discounts or both.

Kudos to Coupon Cabin for documenting most of the participating retailers from last year. You can see the full list of attendees, but here are some of the more recognizable brand names:

  • Amazon
  • Banana Republic
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Best Buy
  • Calvin Klein
  • Crate & Barrel
  • Edible Arrangements
  • GameStop
  • Groupon
  • JCPenney
  • Kate Spade
  • Macy’s
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Nike
  • Office Depot
  • Old Navy
  • Overstock
  • PetSmart
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Sephora
  • Target
  • Under Armour
  • Vera Bradley
  • Victoria’s Secret
  • Walmart

Again, for all we know, none of these retailers will participate in Free Shipping Day 2022. The holiday could be totally toast.

But if you’re saving up for something nice from one of these retailers, or you miss Cyber Monday, it could still be worth keeping an eye out for Free Shipping Day deals.

Read more: How to hack Cyber Monday: 10 tips from an online shopping pro

On that note, let’s discuss when it is — and isn’t — worth waiting for Free Shipping Day.

When is Free Shipping Day worth it?

Well, it totally depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s when Free Shipping Day might be worth waiting for, even in its limited form:

1. Buying household essentials

Let’s put aside the fact that Free Shipping Day was conceived to spur holiday shopping, and pretend it fell on July 14 instead. What kinds of things would be great to buy while you get free shipping from major retailers who might otherwise charge for it?

If you ask me, that would be a great time to load up on household essentials. Between Amazon, Walmart, and Target, you can probably use Free Shipping Day to knock out a few trips to the store for paper towels, shampoo, razors, etc.

Because if you’re like me, you spend too much time wandering the endless aisles of those mega-chains. So Free Shipping Day could put 5+ hours back into your holiday schedule.

2. Buying gifts for yourself

If you’ve had your eye on a special gift for someone you love (yourself), and the company selling it charges a bundle for shipping, you might want to reach out and ask if they’re participating in Free Shipping Day 2022.

I fully support self-gifting around the holidays, and if you can save on shipping while doing it, all the merrier.

MRW I include myself in my list of “loved ones to shop for” | Source: Giphy.com

 

But I wouldn’t recommend buying gifts for others due to reason no. 1 below.

When is Free Shipping Day not worth it?

Ironically, Free Shipping Day isn’t ideal for buying gifts for others. Here are the two main reasons why:

1. If you need the gifts to arrive in 2022

The biggest caveat to Free Shipping Day — and most likely the no. 1 reason why 70% of retailers pulled out — is that it’s become way harder for online retailers to guarantee that items purchased on December 14 will arrive by the 24th.

In fact, even the retailers who guarantee it can’t really be trusted. Industry analysts have found that many major retailers who “guarantee” delivery by Christmas Eve actually bake in fine print that says, in effect:

“We’ll get it packaged and out the door ASAP, but if it gets delayed by the shipping provider, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

And believe it or not, that fine print existed before the pandemic.

That’s why I wouldn’t recommend buying any time-sensitive gifts on Free Shipping Day. Just stuff for yourself that you don’t mind arriving in January.

Read more: Inexpensive Christmas gift ideas

2. If you’re looking for the lowest possible price

If you’re looking for steep discounts, Free Shipping Day probably won’t be the day to find them.

In the past, retailers participating in Free Shipping Day have framed free shipping as the discount. A great example is Bed Bath & Beyond, who had great Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, but on Free Shipping Day, did little more than decrease the spending threshold for free shipping from $39 to $19.

Summary

Even if Free Shipping Day returns in some limited form in 2022, it won’t be worth it for the vast majority of holiday shoppers. After all, there are two big reasons why most retailers seem to have seemingly abandoned the online shopping holiday:

  • Their best deals are already live on Black Friday and Cyber Monday
  • December 14 is way too late to guarantee shipping by Christmas Eve, anyhow (let alone the first night of Hanukkah)

That being said, if you find a participating retailer in 2022, it might be worth jumping on some deals for yourself, whether it’s household essentials that would otherwise incur a high shipping charge or a self-gift that you don’t mind arriving late.

Featured image: Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

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About the author

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Chris helps people under 30 prosper - both financially and emotionally. In addition to publishing personal finance advice, Chris speaks on the topics of positive psychology and leadership. For speaking inquiries, check out his CAMPUSPEAK page, connect with him on Instagram, or watch his TEDx talk.