There's a reason online shopping starts to drop off after the second week of December or so -- gifts you order won't necessarily get there in time for Christmas (or the other holidays you celebrate). Many retailers set holiday shipping deadline cut-offs of around December 15 this year for guaranteed arrival by December 24.

So what are desperate retailers to do in order to keep luring in shoppers to buy? Free shipping.

You'd think consumers would have a win-win situation in this equation, but there's a lot of fine print. Even the first annual execution of Free Shipping Day is complicated, and you could not come up with a more straight-forward and consumer-friendly concept unless you just simply started to give stuff away for free. Free Shipping Day this year is December 18. Sponsored (touted? hyped? promoted?) by the site freeshipping.org, the event is supposed to rally retailers and consumers to meet up online. Consumers buy last-minute gifts to be delivered free of charge by Dec. 24, retailers get a bump of last-ditch sales.

Oh, it sounds so simple.
The retailers listed on the site as participating include Amazon, Target, Sears, Macy's, the Apple Store and other major players. None of the links are clickable, and none of the details of the exact deals are listed. So that should give consumers a clue that this is not at all as easy as it seems, just as the whole shipping conundrum has not been easy this holiday season.

"The only qualification for participation in Free Shipping Day is that merchants offer free shipping and guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve. This can include price minimums. The offer is completely up to the merchant. Many merchants will be offer free expedited shipping which makes these deals even better than regular free shipping offers," says Luke Knowles, the founder of the event.

Shipping offers have been as erratic and as fleeting as sale prices. You definitely need help keeping track, and some coupon code sites can help. But still it's hard to keep up. Minimum purchase requirements go up and down. The items available for free shipping shift and change (Target is the worst in this department, if you ask me...I get an email every day, it seems, with an offer of free shipping for a different category of merchandise with a different minimum purchase requirement). It's impossible to keep up and it makes online shopping unnecessarily complicated.

So what happens on free shipping day? If you go to one of the sites of the retailers listed, you will simply get their latest offer, which may or may not have strings attached for a minimum purchase and which may or may not pertain to all of its merchandise.

It's enough to make a shopper want to give up and just head in person to a real, live store.

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