Make an online order and check it twice — a COVID fee could be attached

Posted: 4 December 2020 6:00 pm
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I ran into my first COVID fee from an online retailer. Here’s my experience and savings tips.

In a year of a worldwide pandemic and massive job losses, the last thing you want to come up against when doing a bit of Christmas shopping online is an extra fee tacked onto your order. That’s exactly what I found as I finished up creating a Christmas card on Shutterfly’s website and proceeded to the checkout screen. There, at the bottom of the page, quite inconspicuously placed beneath the shipping and handling charge was a new line I’d never seen before, reading: COVID fee.

The extra charge caught me off guard — and though it was only for 99 cents, it sounded some alarm bells. Sure, 99 cents might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to my $75 order, but in a year when consumers are tightening their purse strings just to make ends meet, an extra dollar here and there can quickly add up. Imagine if every store you’ve shopped at over the course of the last two weeks charged a buck extra on every order placed — now we’re talking about some serious cash.

To be fair, Shutterfly does have a banner across its homepage explaining that shipping and delivery will likely be delayed this year, and a $0.99 fee will be tacked onto every order to cover “increased costs due to COVID.”

But this isn’t the first we’ve heard about COVID surcharges. Over the past several months, the service and hospitality industries — including some bars, restaurants, gig drivers and hotels — have started charging an extra fee to cover the extra cost of sanitization and PPE for employees. But Shutterfly is the first online retailer I’ve come across that is implementing a similar fee.

Online holiday shopping tips to maximize savings in 2020

So what does this mean for your holiday shopping? Expect to pay extra here and there, whether in the form of a flat COVID fee, increased shipping costs or higher overall prices on goods.

Luckily, there are some ways you can still save this year when shopping for gifts and merch online:

  • Be on the lookout for extra fees. I made the mistake of diving right into my Christmas card project before reading the fine print about the added COVID fee. Learn from my oversight and check for added fees before shopping to save yourself time and money.
  • Shop around. Most online retailers are shaking things up this year and aren’t offering the same discounts as they have in the past for the holiday shopping season. So you may need to branch out from your usual shopping habits to maximize your savings this year. For example, I found I could have saved over 50% on my Christmas cards using Walmart prints rather than my usual go-to for printing needs.
  • Place your order ASAP or choose curbside to save on shipping. Like Shutterfly, most online retailers are experiencing increased shipping demands this year, which means higher rush shipping fees and more delays for consumers. Get your online shopping done as early as you can this year, or choose curbside or in-store pickup for last-minute gifts.
  • Stack coupons and deals where applicable. Lots of online stores are still offering sitewide discounts leading up to Christmas. But even if a discount has already been automatically applied to your order, see if you can stack another coupon code on top of that deal. Even in cases where only one coupon code is allowed per order, you might find that your coupon offers a better discount than the default offer.

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