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One of Amazon's distinguishing features over the years has been its capacity to launch packages at you like they're coming out of a railgun. Originally, this was a way to compete with the physical stores that may be just down the street from you, but with the online store's massive selection and retail-wrecking prices, there are other perks beyond rapid-fire delivery to your front door.

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If you're a Prime subscriber, Amazon (Android, iOS) gives you get 48-hour shipping for free, one-day shipping sometimes for free or at a substantially reduced cost, free same-day shipping in certain regions for about three million items, and other perks like a free six-month trial to the digital version of the Washington Post. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Post in 2013 with his own funds.) If you don't have Prime, you need to purchase at least $25 worth of items.

While the company's offerings have evolved a lot over the years, its dollar requirement for non-subscriber shipping has been quite firm, so it's with surprise that we report its announcement today that it's dropping this commandment for everyone, for all shipments scheduled to arrive before December 25.

Amazon doesn't quite say that everything is covered under this new deal, saying instead that "This offer applies to hundreds of millions of items -- the largest free shipping selection in the country." Every item included in its gift guides for electronics, fashion, home and toys will be on the list, at least, and "hundreds of millions" probably accounts for the overwhelming majority of things that you could buy.

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Keep in mind that 48-hour shipping doesn't necessarily mean that the entire order will take only that much time to arrive at your door -- only that Amazon will choose a shipper that can deliver the package in that time frame. How much time it takes Amazon to process an order before shipping can be another matter.

Therefore, shoppers who need their packages delivered before December 25 should get that order finished several days before they need to, because the company will likely be flooded with last-minute purchases. Many listings on Amazon's website will tell you the last day that you can order before the company can no longer guarantee an arrival date before December 25.

Some items can also be scheduled to arrive on a Sunday, thanks to a partnership with the US Postal Service. December 25 falls on a Tuesday this year.

Takeaways

  • In an unexpected turn of events, Amazon has eliminated the minimum purchase requirement for non-Prime subscribers, for all packages that would arrive before December 25.
  • Amazon usually requires a minimum $25 order, or a Prime subscription, and there does not appear to be any meaningful limits on which items qualify for totally free shipping.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.