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Consuming Interests
A blog for the smart consumer
Free Shipping Day is today: Top 10 retailers based on delivery times

Today is Free Shipping Day, when hundreds of retailers offer the service for free with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve -- or sooner.

Now in its seventh year, the specially designated day got its start when the founders of signed up merchants hoping to extend the online shopping season.

Most of the big chains and brands are offering free shipping as well as other deals.

Merchants with such offers include The Body Shop, REI, Target, J.Crew, Sports Authority, Neiman Marcus, Under Armour, Nike, Nine West and many others.

Online shopping has been strong so far this season, with Cyber Monday sales reaching $2 billion, according to Kurt Salmon.

The consulting firm today released its top 10 list of retailers with the fastest delivery times. The top retailers, culled from an analysis of 59 retailers across a range of categories, delivered multi-unit Cyber Monday orders in an average of 2.6 days, more than twice as fast as the average delivery time of 5.7 days.


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Peet's Coffee & Tea in downtown Baltimore closes

Peet's Coffee & Tea shuttered its underperforming downtown Baltimore location Monday, just months after the location was rebranded from Caribou Coffee.

Peet's spokeswoman Amy Lester said in an email that most of the chain's 23 Washington and Baltimore-area locations were performing well, with the exception of three that would be closed: downtown Baltimore and two stores in northern Virginia.

Lester said the coffee chain recognized "this is difficult timing" for employees and will offer to let them transfer to other locations in the region. Employees who don't transfer will get six weeks of severance pay, she said.

The former Caribou location at North Charles and Fayette streets reopened as Peet's in May.

There are two other Peet's locations in the Baltimore area, at the Hunt Valley Towne Centre in Hunt Valley and in Gambrills. Lester said the company doesn't anticipate other closures at this time.


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Monday expected to be busiest of the year for Postal Service, FedEx

The U.S. Postal Service and FedEx Corp. were expecting Monday to be the busiest shipping day of the year, with FedEx anticipating the largest number of shipments in its history.

USPS officials said in a statement they expect to process 640 million cards, letters and packages on Dec. 15. Last year, the busiest day was Monday, Dec. 16, with 607 million pieces of mail processed. USPS said it reflected growth in advertising and mail packages.

FedEx expects to process 22.6 million shipments worldwide on Monday. Between Black Friday and Christmas, FedEx expects to process more than 290 million shipments, an 8.8 percent increase in volume over last year's Christmas season.

The Postal Service is delivering seven days a week in major cities and high volume areas, including on Christmas Day. USPS said Dec. 20 is the deadline to send cards, packages and letters to ensure they arrive in time for Christmas, with Dec. 23 the deadline for sending packages using Priority Mail Express.


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Kohl's to stay open 100 hours straight

In a new holiday promotion, Kohl's Department Stores plans to stay open for 100 hours straight.

The marathon hours will start at 6 a.m. Friday, Dec. 19, and run through 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve on Wednesday, Dec. 24, the retailer said.

"Customers can rely on us around the clock for their last-minute gift giving solutions," said Michelle Gass, Kohl's chief customer officer.

Retailers have been extending store hours and starting promotions earlier than usual during what has been a highly competitive holiday selling season.

The National Retail Federation anticipates an increase of 4.1 percent over last year, but said that during the kickoff Thanksgiving weekend, shoppers on average spent 6.4 percent less than they did a year earlier. This week, the group said sales in November were up 3.2 percent compared with November 2013, which the group believes is consistent with the sales forecast for the season.



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Emerging flavors for 2015: McCormick & Co. annual forecast

Move over, chile peppers. Make way for Shichimi Togarashi and Shawarma spice blends, highlighted in McCormick & Co.'s annual list of the coming year's top food trends and flavors.

The McCormick Flavor Forecast 2015, released today, looks at emerging trends shaping the way people eat at restaurants and cook at home.  Last year, the Hunt Valley spice maker predicted an obsession with chilies as the biggest food trend for 2014.

Bold, intense flavors likely will dominate next year, according to the 15th annual forecast, which highlights eight trends.

"Many early trending flavors in past reports have become favorites of today," Kevan Vetter, McCormick's executive chef, said in the announcement. "Take chipotle chile, for instance. "When we first identified this chile pepper as a flavor to watch in 2003, many people couldn’t pronounce it. Today, it’s a household name."

Other flavors and ingredients, such as pumpkin pie spice, sea salt, coconut water and cocktail-inspired flavors, have...

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Your guide to Cyber Monday, now 'Cyber Week'

As Black Friday has now morphed into a two-day event with the addition of shopping deals on Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday has in many cases similarly stretched into an extended affair.

Cyber Monday, typically the largest online shopping day of the year, is now being dubbed "Cyber Week" by some retailers.

Online retailer started adding deals on Saturday and will continue them for eight days, with promises of a new offer added every 10 minutes. Amazon also says it is offering exclusive deals through its mobile app for the first time this year.

Mega-retailer Walmart also kicked off its online deals on Saturday and will continue them until Friday, with offers of up to 50 percent off televisions, toys and tablets and free shipping.

Target is also doing a "Cyber Week" with deals of buy one, get one 60 percent off for clothing, shoes and accessories and 40 percent off all home items.

For those who can't be caught shopping online while at work, some retailers, like Walmart, are...

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