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L.L. Bean waives all shipping charges; Move is permanent; no minimum order needed to qualify

As retailers increasingly turn to free shipping to lure customers, L.L. Bean on Thursday upped the ante by waiving shipping fees all the time, with no minimum order, putting pressure on rivals.

Effective today, the outdoors and clothing retailer joins in offering permanent, no-strings-attached free shipping, going against the grain in an industry accustomed to selective free shipping offers, particularly around the holidays, and sometimes tied to minimum purchases or vanity credit cards.

Steve Fuller, L.L. Bean's chief marketing officer, said the company had been toying with the idea for the past three years as it tested occasional free shipping.

"In research after research after research, the customers said this is how we want to shop," Fuller said.

Aware that customers want free shipping, retailers are increasingly providing it. In 2009, 30 percent to 35 percent of online holiday purchases involved free shipping; this past holiday season, the figure grew to 40 percent to 45 percent, said Andrew Lipsman, analyst at comScore Inc., an Internet research firm.

Retailers like L.L. Bean closely examine the rate at which online customers discard their "virtual" shopping carts when they see the shipping fees.

"Three-quarters of consumers say that they will abandon their purchase when they can't get free shipping," Lipsman said from his Chicago office.

Competitors are taking varying approaches to shipping: offers unlimited two-day shipping through its $79-a-year Amazon Prime service.

* offers free shipping to some stores and plans to roll it out to all stores by June.

* offers free shipping for new customers on first order.

* offers free shipping with a minimum purchase of $99.

Lipsman said he didn't think Bean's offer would open the free shipping floodgates. But other retailers will take note, and it could add momentum to the already established trend, he said.

L.L. Bean, which saw a 5.8 percent gain in sales last year, is counting on a further boost in sales this year from the free shipping offer and hopes that the expected sales increase will partially offset the costs of providing free shipping, Fuller said.

The offer applies to standard 2- to 5-day shipping via UPS to L.L. Bean customers in the U.S. and Canada.

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