With the push towards profits becoming essential for many Internet firms, we've recently seen online businesses undertake a variety of efforts to create additional revenue. eBay raised its rates for auctioning off items, Amazon announced plans to charge publishers to promote books, Microsoft just cancelled a $400 rebate on PCs for those who signed up for MSN, and free ISP Juno has not only put time limits on heavy users, but also talked about selling time on customers' computers for massively distributed computing projects. (It's ironic - just after we encouraged California-based SETI@home users to cease participation to conserve electricity, Juno proposes having its two million users do just that.)
But the change that most seriously impacts Macintosh users may be Outpost.com's change in shipping policy. For the last 18 months, Outpost.com has waived all charges on overnight shipping, a move that endeared them to many people ordering items that would otherwise be expensive to ship. Plus, there was no liability to placing multiple orders, since you didn't incur any additional shipping charges.
Outpost.com's new shipping rates are $12.95 for overnight or $8.95 for second day delivery, although for orders over $100, they'll waive the first $100 in shipping charges, meaning shipping is still free for most orders totaling $100 or more. The upshot? If you want to order from Outpost.com, you'd be well served to order multiple items at the same time to waive shipping charges. Plus, heavy items like computers and uninterruptible power supplies may end up cheaper at Outpost.com than elsewhere.
This got me thinking. How do some of the major mail order firms compare? Long gone are the days of $3 overnight shipping from the early 1990s, and I liked being able to order a $6 USB cable from Outpost.com without having to pay twice the cable's cost in shipping.
MacConnection -- Of the other retailers I checked, MacConnection had the easiest formula for their shipping charges, at least on the surface. Overnight shipping costs $10.98 for the first three pounds, and $1.69 for each additional pound, with all weights rounded up to the nearest pound. Second day and ground shipping are available, though MacConnection doesn't quote those prices on its customer service page. Curious as to how it all worked out, I pretended to order an iBook and found that it would cost $26.19 for overnight shipping. Second day and ground shipping were available for $18.40 and $13.42. Something like a USB cable would cost a straight $10.98 to ship overnight, $8.40 second day, and $7.04 ground.
MacWarehouse -- Next up in my survey of randomly selected Macintosh mail order houses was MacWarehouse, whose customer service page explained that the only way to find out shipping costs was to put an item in your cart, click a Shipping Rates link, and enter your ZIP code. I checked my sample iBook and found that it would cost between $29 and $22 for overnight and second day delivery, with UPS Ground coming in at $18.33. My sample 10 foot USB cable was either $10.99 for overnight or $8.99 for ground or second day shipping.
MacZone -- Last, but not least, I checked MacZone. Like MacWarehouse, they don't quote rates, and you have to put items in your cart and start the checkout process to see shipping costs. For the iBook, overnight shipping came in at $31.99, whereas third day (they didn't do second day) was $24.64 and ground was $12.20. The USB cable was $10.95 overnight, $7.69 third day, and $5.99 ground.
Booking Passage -- Prices tend to be relatively comparable among these and other mail order retailers, although you can often find cheaper prices on computer gear through services like DealTime and PriceWatch. But all other things (like price and availability) being equal, the lesson I took away from this bit of research is that Outpost.com remains the winner for larger orders thanks to its free shipping on orders over $100, whereas it's a toss-up between the other three for items under $100 if you need it overnight. For inexpensive items you don't need right away, MacZone had the cheapest ground shipping. Keep that in mind next time you head to the Web for some bit of software or hardware.