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    Stop Adding Items to Your Cart to Get “Free” Shipping

    Or at least understand you’re paying for it, no matter what

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    For all of its convenience, online shopping can be awfully stressful. Because as much as you'd like to be responsible and spend your money wisely, the internet is rife with strategies to encourage you to overspend. And there may be no other method more sneaky than the allure of free shipping.

    Charlotte Gomez / BuzzFeed

    Chances are you’ve been in that very quandary. You’ve got everything you need in your cart, only to see the reminder that you’re just a few dollars away from qualifying for gratis delivery. This, of course, leads you to buy the cheapest product you can find — or a higher-priced item you were on the fence about.

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    If you do these things often enough, you’re likely missing out on savings, even though it feels like you’re getting the better deal. To understand this behavior, we spoke to Kit Yarrow, PhD, consumer psychologist and author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind, to understand the often irrational urge to chase free shipping.

    For consumers, “shipping is really viewed as a nuisance cost, not a valued service,” she says. “It’s partly because so many retailers offer free shipping and partly because people don't feel like they're getting anything. They don't look at delivery as something they're willing to pay for, so they have a mindset of 'How can I get out of this?

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    As Yarrow notes, adding something to your cart to reach a free-shipping minimum might make sense if the cost of the extra product offsets the delivery fee. But rarely will you find an item that costs exactly the same amount. And even if you do, the pitfall remains the same: You’re still ordering something you didn’t intend to buy, just to feel like you’re getting a deal. “The problem is people rationalize [purchasing] something that isn’t in their budget,” Yarrow says.

    Unlike other ploys to get you to spend more greenbacks, like “limited time” deals, shipping is an actual line item with a real dollar amount, which goes a long way in explaining why we, as consumers, are obsessed with it. Add in other factors like time spent shopping and you’re primed to make an irrational decision.

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    Even when the same products might be available elsewhere for cheaper, when all is said and done, it’s a psychological hurdle for consumers to throw away that time and effort. When it comes to starting anew on another site or beefing up an order to meet that minimum, Yarrow says, “They want to complete the purchase and sometimes it's easier to just add on.”

    In reality, free shipping is never free, unless the retailer is willing to lose money on the transaction. In fact, for many retailers, the free-shipping model is not at all sustainable (just ask Etsy). “People might go to websites where they know they're going to get free shipping, but the price of the product might be higher,” Yarrow says. “One way or another, there's a cost to getting that product to you, whether it's absorbed in the price or there's a threshold you have to meet. Some scenarios work out better for consumers than others.”

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    So how do we avoid getting spiraling into the “free”-shipping loop?

    Devote some time to figuring out the end price, whether it’s searching for a retailer’s delivery fees at the outset or going all the way to the checkout stage. “Calculate the total cost of the product plus shipping and make that be your price comparison rather than getting a surprise shipping charge later,” she says. “Be aware of the possibility that you’re paying more in order to get free shipping or using a threshold as a rationalization to purchase something that you don't really need or want. Just like most people add in tax in their heads when they're shopping, they have to add in shipping.”

    So yes: It might take some extra effort to reprogram your brain to accept shipping as a cost and a few more minutes to click through to find total prices for your desired items. But when you remember that you’re paying for shipping somehow or other, regardless of anything the websites tell you, you can end up saving money — not to mention all that drawer space taken up by those $10 pairs of minimum-clearing socks.