Free or low-cost shipping sites

FRESNO, Calif.

When Marion Coughlin went online to send her grandson a $45 gift, the cost to send it came as a shock.

"The shipping cost was almost $16, plus five something for tax, and I was … astounded!"

Excessive shipping charges are the main reason shoppers don't finish checking out online, according to the direct marketing association.

Consumer reports says there are a number of ways to avoid monstrous shipping fees.

"There are sites that offer free or low-cost shipping, so check for those before you start shopping. Some, like Zappos.com, offer free shipping both ways, even if you decide to return an item," Mandy Walker said.

Another site that's worth trying is freeshipping.org. You type in the name of a store, then you can see whether there are coupon codes you can use at the store's website to save on shipping.

And some websites will ship for free - but not to your house. Walmart.com lets you shop at its site - then offers free shipping to a Wal-Mart store, where you can pick up your purchase. Borders and Best Buy do it, too.

And if there's a must-have infomercial product on your list, beware of the shipping costs.

"And now the Awesome Auger is yours for only 19.99 plus shipping and processing."

Those shipping fees - listed as "separate p and h" - are tacked on to each item in this offer, including the "bonus" drill.

In the end, they boosted the bill to more than $56. That's more than double the cost of the original 19.99 product.

And a lesson to be learned from Marion Coughlin - shop early to avoid sending last-minute gifts to family and friends when shipping costs are at their peak.

If you think you've been charged shipping fees that are too high or misleading, consumer reports says report it to your local consumer protection office.

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