The battle for the hottest prices this holiday season is spilling into a new arena — the fight over free shipping.
As Walmart, Target and Amazon.com launch a price war for merchandise in the weeks before Thanksgiving, they are now wooing customers with the promise of fast, efficient, no-cost shipping.
On Monday, Amazon upped the ante by expanding free shipping to all customers through the holidays, with no minimum purchase required.
The retail and tech giant also is offering Prime Members free same-day delivery on more than three million items.
Prime members, who pay $119 a year for the service, already receive free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase necessary.
It’s a move, analysts say, that Amazon hopes will edge out its brick-and-mortar competitors and maybe even lock in new Prime subscribers going into 2019.
But with grand promises come high risks — fall short on getting customers their presents in time, and those shoppers go elsewhere.
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post.
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“This is going to boil down to, ‘How do I want to shop? Who’s the cheapest in price. And who do I trust the most?’” said Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School.
To be sure, Target and Walmart are playing ball. Last month, Target announced that from Nov. 1 to Dec. 22, it will offer free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase or membership required.
In March, Target said shoppers who spent at least $35 or used a company credit card could get free two-day shipping. In previous holiday seasons, Target offered free standard shipping.
Walmart will continue to offer free two-day shipping in the United States on purchases of $35 or more. It’s also expanding its free two-day shipping to third-party marketplace sellers.
“Amazon took out a potential challenge to its supremacy,” Cohen said. “‘Free’ is a very addictive drug.”
Cohen said Amazon has “a chokehold on competitors” largely because of the revenue generated through Prime memberships, which Bezos most recently put at more than 100 million worldwide in his annual shareholder letter.