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Wed Apr 11 2012 12:00:26

'Free Shipping' Myth: Do You Use eBay's Shipping Rules?

By: Julia Wilkinson

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While eBay executives have been proclaiming "free shipping" as the new ecommerce industry standard (refuted in this recent EcommerceBytes article: Debunking the eBay Myth of Free Shipping), some sellers (such as myself) may have forgotten that eBay has a whole slate of promotional shipping rules for creating various shipping discounts for different numbers of items purchased, weights of items purchased, and so on.

These shipping discounts are explained in detail here: Offering shipping discounts. But reading through the various permutations of the rules was making my head start to hurt. The questions that come to mind are: did you remember that these rules are there, and what is eBay's stance on these rules given their new "free shipping is the industry standard" belief?

Some examples of the shipping discounts include:

- Flat shipping rules

This lets you offer discounts to buyers who purchase more than one of your items, e.g., "if a buyer purchases 3 items from you, you can have a rule that the buyer is charged the shipping amount for the item with the highest shipping cost, plus an additional $1 for each additional item purchased."

- Calculated shipping rules

Essentially, this is shipping based on the combined weights of multiple items purchased.  Ebay says you can "automatically combine the weights of all the items purchased into one shipment" or "automatically combine the weights of the items into one shipment and subtract an amount (in ounces)."

-  Carrier-specific discounts to buyers

This is basically what it says; e.g. you can offer a 5% discount off of UPS Retail Rates, or, say,  a 10% discount off of USPS Online Rates.

- Promotional shipping rule

 Here you offer a discount if a buyer spends a certain amount, say, $25; or the slightly more baffling, "You can specify that a buyer be charged no more than $5.00 for shipping if the buyer purchases more than one item from you." (This, of course, depends on what the item is and how heavy it may not make much sense for lamps!)

Personally, I find all that stuff too complicated. I like to handle shipping discounts on a case-by-case basis, but this really requires communication with the buyer - usually I do this by regular email, if I can, but it is sometimes done by the eBay messaging system. As the latter is now being discouraged to maintain a Top-Rated Seller (TRS) status (with "no communication between buyers and sellers" a criteria for an automatic 5-star DSR for communication), this kind of on-the-fly flexible shipping discount will be less attractive to me. On the other hand, people are starting to debate the value of that TRS badge, given all its myriad requirements.

How do you feel about free you agree it's a myth that buyers expect it? And were you aware of eBay's shipping rules and promotional shipping discounts? Do you use them or are you less inclined to use them now, if so? Post a comment here.

Comments (18) | Permalink

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by: BetterThingsToDo This user has validated their user name.

Wed Apr 11 12:49:20 2012

When Fleecebay decided to start charging FVF on shipping we just add 10% to our shipping cost.

Fleecebay morons are constantly calling and trying to convince us that free shipping is the way to go.

What we tell them isn't fit to repeat here so we will leave it to your imagination. Doesn't slow the morons down thou as they keep calling.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Al G

Wed Apr 11 16:12:16 2012

I use the calculated rules extensively. For my mix of things I can just add $0.25 per additional post card, let's say on the original shipping amount or add the weight for another book being shipped Media.

Makes my life easier since the amounts can be pre-programmed into TurboLister & edited in for the related items loaded into TL.

As for free shipping - said before - it's up to me the seller to make that call. I really don't give a whit what eBay thinks. They don't care about me and so I will "use" them as much as possible to achieve my business goals.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Apr 11 18:42:40 2012

Respectfully, Julia, ebafia's insistence that "free" shipping being the "industry standard" isn't a myth.

It's a LIE.

As for "shipping discounts," ebafia typically errs on the side of making everything that will save sellers money as complicated and difficult to understand as possible.

The true purpose of all these confusing, deliberatwely convoluted policies is ultimately to force sellers into submission so ebafia can make more money.

The Ho lies. The Devil lies. Griff lies. RBH lies. Joanna Hoff lies. They ALL lie.

Ebafia's sociopathic elitist management long ago forgot the KISS principle, but here's one KISS principle everyone can understand:

Ming's ebay Law #1:


Ebafia is also anti American, anti small business, pro Communist Chinese and a tax evader.

It's income tax preparation season, and what better time to ponder the question of how much less money you and I would pay if tax evading American corporations like ebafia paid their fair share.

As I've said before, The Ho and The Devil can shove their "free shipping" into their respective inboxes.

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by: Royal Presence This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Apr 11 20:43:52 2012

I don't have all the data or facts, but is my opinion that it is a contrived marketing tactic.  Yes, there are some who will make a purchase because of free shipping and believe they are getting 'something for nothing'.
Are those your target customers?  If so, you will be locked into that premise.  I never say never, so won't say I'll never do free shipping across the board, but for now, it is categorized as transportation costs, i.e., in/out.  
Besides online selling, I also work for private industry and shipping is what it is, shipping transportation charges via all the carriers that are available for domestic and international transport are a little competitive, but also depends on product sold to make a determination on select carrier.    We offer the end user a choice of service offered.  
Transportation costs to seller should remain part of operating expenses in my opinion, not costs of goods sold, as they are reimbursed from the buyer.  

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by: Digmen1 This user has validated their user name.
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Thu Apr 12 07:01:16 2012

It depends on the value of them item.

Eg you cannot offer free shipping on a $2.00 item. But you can on a $100 item.

So ebay sucks.

The commercial stand alone websites only offer free shipping if you buy a certain dollar amount.

Ebay thinks they can suck sellers into offering it.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie

Thu Apr 12 11:57:31 2012

-- ''you cannot offer free shipping on a $2.00 item. But you can on a $100 item.''

I KNOW!! Isn't that one of the most insane policies you've ever heard of?!

To offer ''free'' shipping on low-priced items will deter buyers because the item is priced too high.

OTOH... to NOT offer ''free'' shipping on low-priced items results in invisible listings in the eBay search results.

Either way, the seller loses. It's such an absurd result that the only explanation which makes any sense is that it's being done intentionally... and THIS is the desired outcome.

What's a Mother to do?

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by: epromos This user has validated their user name.
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Thu Apr 12 12:05:03 2012

I definitely have offered free shipping before - but what it really amounts to is "included shipping". It would be downright foolish of me to ship a product and not include the cost of the actual shipping, the cost of materials, and also a bit of padding for my time and effort.

I sometimes ship some hefty promotional products - in bulk - and as a bit of a marketing tactic I have indeed put "free shipping". That is the reality of free shipping for any reasonable seller. However, I hardly do that anymore so its not a real issue for me.

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by: Arch This user has validated their user name.

Thu Apr 12 23:30:02 2012

Amazon is always a step ahead and eBay is not even observant enough to follow what they are doing. Free shipping with a minimum purchase should be the best option for sellers. Sellers should be able to  set the minimum order as multiple average purchases can vary customer to customer.  This would increase overall sales more than only having a free shipping option. As was reported a few days ago this is what almost all major etailers also do- free shipping but with a minimum order.   I don't think this would be very complicated for eBay to setup.

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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Thu Apr 12 23:32:51 2012

I don't--I won't---and I can't--"offer" free shipping.

That said---I wondered at myself while searching the Net and FleeceBay for a piece of sheet metal.  The shipping on MOST of these lightweight and not that large pieces was at times MORE than the inflated cost of the item itself!  And I KNOW it does not cost anywheres NEAR what most places wanted.  Of course I did the math---"Free" included shipping vs Item Plus Shipping to get a reasonable price.  

And in this case I actually did find a seller (NOT on FleeceBAy!!!)  who offered included shipping at a VERY attractive price.  How are they able to do this?  I dunno.  They didn't advertise this--I was very surprised at checkout to see---ZERO SHIPPING.

Now this is NOT a major retailer like LL Bean or Sears or whoever.  

And I didn't flatter myself for Excellent Search of the Internet.

But this ONE time I did find a reasonable "package" of Item and Shipping.


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by: 2old4nonsense This user has validated their user name.
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Thu Apr 12 23:39:41 2012

Why would any body ask me to give Free Shipping? Why would I be asked to lose money on a sale because I end up paying over 50% of the shipping cost? That would happen if I agreed to give free shipping. Someone has to pay the shipping. All across the internet All stores charge for  shipping. It is a given. I expect it. So why would I have to lose money in the process of trying to make it. It has to be made up some how. The only way is to over charge the buyer on the price of the item. I only had to spend a couple of weeks on E-Bay buying & selling to realize People are losing a lot of money on their sales. It feels like big brother breathing down your neck! The feedback system has so many sellers scared to death that you have to laugh out loud or you will cry over it. I asked myself do I really want to be a part of all this. NO. Free Shipping is not Free! It is all for E-Bay profits. 2 people gave their views I noticed the one for Free Shipping wrote a whole page. The other a couple of lines. Was the one that was for Free Shipping on E-Bay an employee?

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by: paul This user has validated their user name.

Fri Apr 13 08:50:41 2012

Ebay has done nothing but cheat the sellers for years on higher FEES.. This Free Shipping only puts more money in Ebays GREEDY pocket. I do not and will not offer Free Shipping, there is NO such thing...Greed is Ebays middle name. Taking Fees from shipping is another way to rip the seller off. Wake Up People....

The higher you price your items for sale, the higher the Fees are for Ebay....


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This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Fri Apr 13 11:26:37 2012

I used to use the rules and both calculated and flat rate shipping, but now offer free shipping. It works quite well for me and for what I sell, but I'm sure it's not one-size-fits-all for every seller. It might be nice to see eBay offer a minimum purchase rule for free shipping. I haven't looked to see if exiting rules can be tweaked to do that. But regardless, free shipping is not a "lie" and works quite well for me.

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by: Chique*Life This user has validated their user name.
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Fri Apr 13 18:42:45 2012

We always offer free shipping, and it offers a point of difference to buyers who like to feel that they are getting a deal. I like "free" shipping as a buyer, too.

Naturally we include the cost of shipping in the price of the item. Sometimes we lose a little on our profit margin, but we made the sale over other choices the customer had, so we are ahead.

I don't like paying the eBay commission on cost of shipping, but it's a cost of doing business on an active marketplace.

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by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Sun Apr 15 17:32:51 2012

''ebays free shipping'' is just eBay's infantile  way of try to out Amazon, Amazon.

If Amazon charges you $1 to list, eBay will charge 50 cents.If Amazon has no auctions, eBay will give away 100000000000000000, If Amazon ramps up its Amazon payments, then eBay pushes Paypal.

eBay has never had an original idea in the last 10 yrs).

eBays ONLY ideas - since none of the poor copy cat BS ideas worked is to ignore its sellers - the ones that ''cost them time, effort and money'' and move to only supporting the BIG sellers.

Noah said it 3x in TWICE Magazine and JD said it at CES. Anyone that doesnt heed the warning will get run over like a truck squashing a grape.

eBay would like nothing better then to continue to gut thier CS dept (why pay people?), gut VERO - with small dealers gone - they arent needed, and cull auctions as they take up server space and cant be counted on for revenue.  

eBay claims buyers want free shipping - of course they so - and I want free listings, and no FVF, and for JD to get a brain - but none of those things are happening. When something DOES happen on eBay, its only when it can come out of the sellers pockets.

Noah and JD sit around thinking of things they can offer buyers to get them to leave Amazon that wont cost them anyting, and when they cant - they take it out of theier sellers.

Thats why theres a new returns center with the magic partial returns - its more money out of a sellers pocket. period.

There's no end to the eBay corporate greed, as JD and Noah need thier $20million a year in salaries, they need thier tax dodges, they need thier EU vacations and they need people like US to fund it. Ask them for anyhting in return (like some kind of parity on the platform) and you get the BS attitude GRIFF had when they asked him about SR1 ''we heard you but we dont care - its our way or get lost''.

Thanks Griff - you are a REAL PIECE OF WORK!

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by: Steevo This user has validated their user name.

Sun Apr 15 20:00:44 2012

We tend to sell bigger stuff. 65# printers, stuff like that.

I had a guy bought 28 items from us once, and they were in the ebay shipping calculater by size and weight, 14# each and in a box that was 39" long.

Ebay's shipping calculator insisted on combining them into one box, even though that was clearly impossible since it would be a 6' long box 6' high and 39" wide. And ebay knew it because I had defined the calculated shipping that way. And I set it to not combine shipping.

Fortunately the buyer was a professional and he knew his $20,000 order wasn't gonna fit in a box with $300 shipping. It had to ship freight.

But that's how goofy ebay's shipping calculator can be.

Ebay wants to combine shipping, wants you to pass shipping discounts through to buyers, wants you to ship without being paid for the box, the packing material or the labor. Ebay is all designed to work for sellers who are working on their kitchen table for free.

We don't work for free. On ebay the buyers pays for *everything*. The cost of the auction, the box, the packing labor, your internet bill, your warehouse bill, your employee's benefits and taxes. Everything. Nothing is free.

Unless you are just trying to find something to do and you don't care about making money. Not us!

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by: theotherdawg This user has validated their user name.

Wed Apr 18 00:55:56 2012

I have stopped using ebay and am looking into other options for tools and other heavier things I sell.  FVF was the first step off the train and now with free shipping  or you item is hidden behind everything else I have left the train.  They have now figured out how to screw the seller yet even more than before.  BYEBYE

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by: cgb This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 20 11:14:23 2013

80% of my second hand dealer business used to be on ebay, now it's 10%. I use it only to pitch off things I paid next to nothing for, because it's the only way I can make money there. I sell many items that weigh 10 to 20 pounds, sell between 30-40 bucks, and have roughly a 30-50% profit margin. No way I can offer free shipping. Even Amazon only offers free shipping on certian items. I now use etsy, my own website, flea markets, street fairs, ect. I would be homeless if I used ebay alone these days. ebay has buyers, but the quality of buyers has gone down exponentially. The scammers are out of control, and the rest want to pay nothing for things. I remember the early days of ebay, when feedback rooted out the scammers, you could find quality buyers, and they could find you. Not anymore.    

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by: owl3606 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jun 13 10:40:42 2016

Right now I mostly use calculated shipping and add $1 to each as a handling fee.  I use free shipping, too, and it even works with the lower prices if I list them as an auction.  Of course then I will pay 0.05 insertion fee that is supposed to be credited to my account when the item is sold but I am yet to see it.  I offer promotional shipping too, and couldn't believe when a buyer actually used it.  Combined a bunch of items for $20 and paid zero shipping  fees.  After I was done cussing the buyer, I upped the promotional price to $50.  But now can't find a way to exclude certain items from it, so had to up the price.  

To be honest, I tend to overprice my items and then sit back & wait until they sell.  It usually happens eventually when the time is right.  And you never know when it's right so it pays to be patient.  

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