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Under the Christmas Tree This Season: Free Shipping

NEW YORK - It's beginning to look a lot like a free Christmas ... free shipping that is.
     Walmart's announcement last week that it would begin offering no-charge shipping online is likely to set off a chain reaction up and down the web and could very well define the dynamics of this holiday shopping season.
     Walmart is not the first retailer to offer free shipping, but it is the biggest. Target and J.C. Penney both initiated free shipping programs with some strings attached and other retailers have introduced variations on the theme this year. A few, such as L.L. Bean, are offering no-cost freight regardless of order size or shopping frequency. But the Walmart.com program is all encompassing and includes no small print.
     Each year for the past several holiday seasons free shipping has been a factor in retail marketing efforts, but Walmart's announcement is the largest, most widespread program in the marketplace.
     Come Dec. 26 it will remain to be seen whether such programs end or become fundamental elements of online strategies.

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