The truth behind Shutterfly’s unlimited free prints offer

All the 4×6 prints you can imagine for free! All you have to do is order your prints through the Shutterfly app. Sounds great, right? Almost unbelievable.

What would you do with unlimited prints? Here’s a few ideas:

How can Shutterfly give away free prints?

Shutterfly must be offering these unlimited free prints because they want to grow their user base of the Shutterfly app. Make an incredible offer and get a ton of people to sign up. Sure, there’s the cost of offering all these prints for free, but now Shutterfly has these people using their app. Once someone learns how to order prints from their app, they would be more likely to continue to use the app. Get those new users hooked!

So this deal has got to be legit, right? Well, let’s look at the fine print (bolding is mine):

*Offer valid for a limited time only. Offer is good for unlimited free 4×4 and/or 4×6 prints through the Shutterfly apps only. Taxes, shipping and handling will apply. Not valid on other sizes, other products, prepaid plans, prior purchases, orders placed for in-store pick up and purchases made on shutterfly.com and our mobile-friendly site. Each order can only contain a maximum of 250 photos. Please start a new order for adding more items. Cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with other offers or credits. Not valid for resale.

Prints must be ordered through the app.

Ordering through the app isn’t too bad, especially since you can quickly select photos by just dragging down your screen. Pretty cool!

Each order can only have 250 photos.

They had to put some sort of limit on people ordering a million prints. The app does indeed only let you order 250 at a time.

I seriously was going to put an order in for a thousand prints of the same photo. But heck, I can put in four orders of 250 photos. Sure!

Only 9 prints of the same photo

The quantity field per photo on the Shutterfly app only allows for a single digit. Thus, you can order only 9 prints per photo.

Why just nine prints? Shouldn’t they let people order 250 prints of the same photo? Well, it might make it TOO easy for someone to go crazy and order thousands of photos and wreck this wonderful deal, right? That’s not entirely true. The shipping kills this offer.

You have to pay taxes, shipping, and handling. 

How much is the shipping and tax? I added 250 photos to my cart. Filled in my shipping address. Went to check out. The total is $23.45 ($21.71 for shipping, $1.74 for tax). That’s quite an expensive shipping cost!

Shutterfly’s unlimited free prints offer ends up costing 9.3 cents a print.

For 9.3 cent a print, you might as well get your prints from Walgreens. They often have 9-cent print deals. Right now they have a 50% off deal that effectively makes 4×6 prints cost ten cents per print. Plus, whenever you order from Walgreens, you always get a receipt that asks you to take a survey at walgreenslistens.com where you can win $3000.

Walgreens versus Shutterfly

Walgreens photo center:

Shutterfly app:

And hey! If you want your Shutterfly prints to arrive faster, you can pay even MORE for shipping. The shipping charges for my 250 prints are:

Why is the shipping so much? Obviously, Shutterfly wants to make some sort of profit off their prints during this special offer. Maybe when the offer is done, they lower their shipping prices back to normal.

Nope. Shutterfly provides a handy chart of all their shipping costs for 4×6 (and 4×4) prints.

Since Shutterfly has this chart published, these indeed are their regular prices for shipping. When there is no “free” offer, prints cost 15 cents each. Tack on the 8.7 cents shipping per print, and that’s a total of 24 cents per print!

What’s really happening here with Shutterfly’s deal, is that they are selling prints at Walgreens-based prices at 9 cents a print. When the deal goes away, you have to pay 24 cents per print. That kinda sucks. But get this, not only is Shutterfly selling prints for nine cents each, calling it “free”, they are deceiving people into thinking these prints are free, so people order the full 250 prints.

People end up buying a monster-load of 250 prints for Walgreens pricing. Would you normally order 250 prints from Walgreens? Probably not. Shutterfly tricks people into ordering a very large quantity at the same price you’d pay at Walgreens.

Walgreens wins. Order as many photos you’d like from Walgreens. Pick them up right away. And get yourself entered to win $3000.