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2 ways to save on shipping costs

A couple of easy, lesser-known options can provide significant savings.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 28, 2012 7:59PM
Image: African-American woman shopping online (© Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images)In "Get paid to buy stuff," I explained how cash-back shopping sites can mean cheaper purchases. Recently I learned about two related options: ship-to-store and in-store pickup.

Either tactic provides additional discounts, from the cash-back rebate and any online coupons. But are they always a good idea?

Not necessarily. If you live 50 miles from the nearest Nordstrom or Office Max, hold out for a free-shipping coupon. Even paying for shipping is cheaper than driving 100 miles round trip.

But maybe you live near those stores, or near Wal-Mart, Cabela's, RadioShack, Walgreens, Home Depot, Lowe's or others. (See full list below.) Or maybe you see something on a retailer's site that isn't available in the local branch.

In those cases, why not order through a cash-back site and specify one of those two options?

In-store pickup lets you order online for cash-back rebates of 2% to 8% plus additional savings from online coupons, some of them exclusive. At least 30 retailers offer this service, according to the blog You can generally pick up your purchase the same day, sometimes in as little as an hour.

Ship-to-store takes a bit longer. It's for items that aren't available locally but can be found on the retailer's website. They get sent to the nearest store, where you pick them up. My daughter used this option to get some curtains and wound up with both a rebate and $20 in savings. (More on that later.)

A good bet for procrastinators
The in-store pickup retailers confirmed by FatWallet are:
  • Home, auto, tools and sporting goods: Ace Hardware, Advance Auto Parts, Cabela’s, Golfsmith, Home Depot, Kirkland's, Lids, Lowe’s and REI.
  • Retail/apparel: The Container Store, Dollar Tree, Finish Line, Gander Mountain, J.C. Penney, Kmart, L.L. Bean, Meijer, Nordstrom, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Payless, Redbox, Sears, Staples, Walgreens and Wal-Mart.
  • Technology/electronics: Apple Store, Best Buy, Game Stop and Radio Shack.
FatWallet blogger Heather Stephens says this option is a boon to procrastinators.

"It used to be that I'd end up shopping at the last minute and paying more than I should . . . or shopping online and paying huge shipping fees," Stephens writes. Now she orders online and picks up her merchandise locally.
According to Craig Cassata of Mr. Rebates, in-store pickup is especially useful for heavy items that can't be shipped easily or at all (think washing machines).

Just don't overestimate your abilities. Is it really feasible for you to muscle that washer and dryer into the back of your truck? Any money you save might be negated by the costs of liniment and chiropractic treatment.

Using ship-to-store

It's hard to determine the number of retailers that offer this option. Given how many customer service departments special order items, it's worth starting online to see if the site will ship to your local store.

For example, my daughter wanted $50 worth of drapery panels for her home's large front windows. The specific pattern and color wasn't available at her local J.C. Penney, so she ordered it online. Since the accompanying Mr. Rebates coupon read "$10 off any $25 purchase," she did two separate $25 orders and saved $20 on top of a 5% rebate.

A true frugalist might want to pay with a discounted gift card to increase savings even further. However, use of a gift card may reduce or even void any cash-back rebate. Each retailer has its own rules.

However, if the gift card was bought at a 10% discount and covers the purchase in full, it beats a 2% to 8% rebate. Who knows -- you might get partial or complete cash-back. It's worth a shot.

Besides, you still get the benefit of any online coupons associated with the cash-back site and you won't have to pay shipping costs. Bonus: When you order specific items and go to pick them up, you don't wander through the store finding items you suddenly "need." Out of sight, out of mind.

More from MSN Money:

Jul 15, 2012 1:09AM
There is one more way to lower the postage. Try to share postage with others and place bulk order.

Jul 3, 2012 8:19PM
Also check on the shipping rates for various totals, since there's often a big break at some point, which could be as low as free shipping for $25 or more which applies to most items at Amazon.  If I buy more than one thing from the site, I'll wait until I can put enough together to get the break in shipping costs.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.