Top Strategies To Cut Shipping Charges

Excessive postage and shipping charges are the bane of every online shopper’s life. Here are our favourite ways to avoid paying too much for delivery when you buy online.

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Excess postage charges really come into focus when you’re using an overseas site, but that isn’t always the case: I’ve seen shipping costs from Australian retailers that are higher than the equivalent charges from offshore. For every vendor that offers “free shipping”, there’s another with over-the-top costs. But you can avoid some of those imposts with a little careful planning.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Compare Costs From Rivals

It’s an obvious strategy but shouldn’t be overlooked: when shopping online, factor postage into the price when making your comparison. If Dealer A has the phone of your dreams but charges $20 for shipping, Dealer B’s $15 higher price with free shipping can make a big difference. Often you’ll have to go to the trouble of adding something to your cart to find the postage charges, but it’s worth the effort if you want to save money. Our guide to Australia’s best deal sites highlights useful sites for making these kinds of comparisons. If you’re buying books or DVDs, we’re big fans of Booko. On eBay, you can also restrict your search to only show companies with free postage (select that option on the Advanced search screen).

Buy While You’re Overseas

If you’re travelling overseas and will be in one location for a few days, you can order goods for delivery to your hotel and take advantage of cheaper local pricing. (Amazon, for instance, offers free shipping in both the US and UK if you spend over a certain amount.) One trap to be aware of: many hotels now impose a parcel charge to pick up packages, which can negate some of those savings. [clear]

Opt For Slower Sea Delivery

If you’re not in a rush, seamail is invariably much cheaper than air or courier delivery. The trade-off is you’ll wait much longer for your items: often three months or more.

Choose The Right Payment Method

Currency conversion charges can make an already expensive package even costlier. As a general rule, pick a credit card that doesn’t impose excessive foreign currency charges to minimise your costs. Lifehacker readers are big fans of 28 Degrees in this context. Keep an eye out too for specials where you get free shipping if you pay with a specific method: PayPal regularly runs deals of this type. And on that note . . .

Wait For Shipping Specials

Many retailers run deals where shipping is free, often for a limited 24-hour period. Obvious examples include Big W and Threadless. We often highlight deals like this on Lifehacker; sites such as OzBargain are also good resources for tracking free postage options. This won’t help if you need to buy urgently, but for longer-term purchases it’s the ultimate way to save.

Fake Your Location

“Free postage” can sometimes be deceptive; well-known online book store Book Depository claims “free worldwide shipping” but actually changes the prices it quotes after deducing your location from your browser. As we’ve pointed out before, you can fake your location and potentially get even cheaper prices. That’s a controversial choice, but it’s a potential option in some cases.

Consolidate Orders To One Sender

If you order six items from six separate stores, you’ll pay six separate postage charges. If you order everything from a single store, you’ll generally only pay once. That’s a big reason why mega-sites such as Amazon are successful: you can grab everything and only pay a single postage charge. That said, you should check the details carefully when using this strategy: since Amazon also lets you order from affiliated “partners”, you can end up paying multiple amounts of postage anyway.

Got your own preferred strategy for minimising shipping costs? Tell us in the comments.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


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