Nothing says Christmas to me like the words "free shipping."
The last hurdle on my way to full-online shopping has been cleared by retailers who got the message I sent last year: I am not paying for shipping.
I know, I know. I am paying for shipping.
I'm sure the shipping costs have found their way into the price of that sweater, that DVD or that set of monogrammed beer mugs, but at least it isn't a nasty surprise waiting with my "shopping cart."
Retailers surveyed shoppers and found that they were very happy with their online shopping experiences — until it was time to check out. Then many of them, like me, bailed when they saw what the convenience was costing.
Online shopping is expected to total $96 billion this holiday season, and I know I am doing my part.
According to the National Retail Federation, that will be a 12 percent increase over last year, when overall Christmas spending might only increase a pallid 4 percent this season.
And online shopping represents a big chunk of holiday sales, expected to total about $586 billion this season.
Even before the holidays made the mall parking lot impenetrable, I had been a convert to online shopping. I bought a refrigerator and a bathing suit online this year, and if that range of purchases isn't a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.
I do most of my online shopping at home in the evening, and retailers know it. Some have started to send out email blasts announcing sales and promotions that will only last until the cock crows because they've followed the habits of people like me, and they know we are out there trolling for bargains.
And, apparently, they think we have been drinking.
It is a good guess. What hard-working American doesn't like a cocktail after work? The New York Times wrote recently about a woman who didn't remember she ordered a cellphone cover and was surprised when it arrived. Cute. But how about the guy who purchased a $10,000 motorcycle tour of New Zealand when he was half lit? Probably more fun than a cellphone cover, but still a bit of a shock the next morning.
And what mom hasn't felt she deserved a little "me time" after the homework is done and the kids are in bed? Apparently, that's when most of the makeup and accessories are sold online.
I like the ease of comparison shopping online. I like the ease of delivery, the option of gift wrap, the quick way to include a little note. None of these requires a car or patience.
The next step, of course, is free shipping on returns. That's out there, too. But if you buy something from the online arm of a brick-and-mortar store, you can return it there — quicker and easier.
UPS and Fed Ex have realized that we — not necessarily the retailers — are the customers they need to please, and they are competing to serve us better. Now you can customize your deliveries. Google and Amazon.com are waging a war to see which will be your shopping search engine, and Amazon and some other retailers are experimenting with same-day delivery. So it is clear my habits are driving the industry in all sorts of new directions.
None of this bodes well for shopping malls, of course, especially the second- or third-tier malls. Yet it appears there will continue be a place for them in a transformed retail world.
It is called "showrooming," and it is what I did when I bought my refrigerator. I did all my research on the Web, but I wanted to see more of the refrigerator than the online pictures showed. So I checked out the floor model in the store and then, because they didn't have the one I wanted in stock, I ordered it online. It is possible stores will become more like model homes in the future, where you can see and touch before you buy.
As is the case for many women, I make the holidays happen for my family — and online shopping has made it that much easier for me.
I should probably confess, in the interest of full disclosure, that I finished the last of it while researching this column. And it is all being shipped to me for free.
Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. Her email is email@example.com. Twitter: @SusanReimer