5. Be fully staffed, stocked and prepacked. When offering free shipping deals-especially for Free Shipping Day, when consumers are expected to make purchases on that particular day-Knowles says retailers of all sizes should be fully stocked, staffed and prepared to meet orders and get them out the door within 48 hours.
Alibaba.com's Lee says online retailers can survive free shipping, and the holidays in general, by prepacking orders before the demand heats up. "Consider packing commonly shipped items and write package weights on the surface of boxes to save time before the rush," he says.
6. Use premium services to offset the cost of free shipping.
Jason Nyhus, vice president of MarketForce technologies for ecommerce service provider Digital River, says retailers must offer free shipping to stay competitive. (Think of Amazon and its two-day shipping policy). To offset costs, layer premium service options on top of the free shipping offer, he recommends.
Free shipping offers are typically the most basic of shipping services options. If you can promote faster shipping times and guaranteed delivery dates at checkout, customers are willing to pay for shipping for better service, especially in the final weeks leading up to the holidays. Nyhus also recommends that retailers leverage other services-including extended warranties, tracking numbers, gift wrap, upselling and cross-selling-to reclaim lost margins from free shipping promotions.
It's Not Too Late to Participate in Free Shipping Day
More than 1,200 stores have signed up for Free Shipping Day, which is Monday, Dec. 17, and Knowles expect more than 2,000 participants by the time the day arrives. "There's always a huge jump in sign-ups a few days before the event," he says.
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.
Read more about e-commerce in CIO's E-commerce Drilldown.