The Holiday Promo Wars Begin: Bean Announces Free S&H

In what some in the industry consider a bold move, L.L.Bean is already offering free shipping and handling for the upcoming holiday shopping season, regardless of the size of the order. The Freeport, ME-based apparel, home goods, and outdoor gear merchant will waive all standard shipping and handling charges on until Dec. 22, the cutoff date for orders to be placed for guaranteed delivery by Christmas.

Representatives from Bean didn’t return calls by press time. But John Rogers, director of multichannel marketing for Bean competitor Orvis Co., says, “I’m surprised to see this move so early. Somehow it’s discouraging to see this sort of offer extended right now. How can it be good in the long term?”

Manchester, VT-based cataloger/retailer Orvis does not plan to implement a similar S&H offer. “This sort of thing [free shipping offers] has been happening online for years now, and we hope that it doesn’t become the norm on the catalog side of the business,” Rogers says. “It could convince customers to shop only when similar savings are offered in the future.” While the Bean offer is sure to boost revenue and increase the size of Bean’s house file, “over time this move could soften response in first-time customers,” Rogers says.

Other multichannel merchants such as Urban Outfitters and J. Crew have declined comment on Bean’s announcement. But 79% of online retailers surveyed by and BizRate said that they plan to offer free shipping, albeit with conditions, this holiday season. Likewise, 79% of consumers, according to the same survey, said that free S&H offers were an important factor in deciding where to buy.