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Friday is your day to score free shipping, 'stack' online deals

If the juxtaposition of the terms “online shopping” and “shipping fees” makes you silently think, “Grrrrrrrr” -- read this.

Far too many shoppers have far too many stories to tell about how the sweet online deals they found suddenly went POOF before their eyes thanks to onerous shipping fees. But, good news: On one glorious day of the year, hundreds and hundreds of retailers unite in benevolence and mercy and cut us a collective break. Sure, more and more retailers are offering free shipping throughout the holiday shopping season. But on this one day, it's a virtual certainty.

This year that happy day -- Free Shipping Day! -- arrives on Friday, Dec. 17, and anything you order from more than 1,000 participating retailers has guaranteed delivery by Dec. 24. Not bad, right?

But wait, there’s more! By using an ingenious method of “stacking” online deals, you can score one, two or even three additional discounts above and beyond the free shipping deal. Just ask Kevin Johnson about the extra-thick down comforter he scored for practically no money last winter. He did it by stacking these offers:

  • A huge sale that Macy’s was having anyway.
  • Free shipping.
  • An online coupon code for more than 30 percent off.
  • An 8 percent cash-back deal that he got for shopping at Macy’s via the site Ebates.com.

Granted, Johnson is the chief executive officer of Ebates.com -- but he’s as giddy as anybody would be about masterminding that comforter purchase.

“Seriously, altogether, it wound up being almost free!” Johnson said.

He noted that in certain cases it’s possible to stack the online deals even higher: Some retailers provide extra discounts when you use their credit cards or participate in exclusive “friends and family” sales.

Ebates has been around for 12 years now, and Johnson has been at the helm for two and a half of them. The site is a clearinghouse that sends shoppers to 1,200 large and small retailers and alerts shoppers to those stores’ free-shipping offers and coupons. Then, as an added bonus, if you shop at, say, Nordstrom or Priceline or Target or eBay or Barnes & Noble through Ebates.com, you’ll get money back in the mail a few weeks later. The list of participating retailers spells out the percentage of your cash you’ll see again; it’s often in the 5 percent range, and it tends to jump significantly on big shopping days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and ... Free Shipping Day.

“Worst case on Friday, you’ll just get free shipping and cash back,” Johnson said. “But almost everyone is having a sale right now too.

“The procrastinators are going to get rewarded this year, I think.”

Psssst ... like free and cheap stuff? Check out Life Inc.'s Deal of the Day posts and TODAYshow.com's Fabulous Freebies feature.