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New Amazon Shipping Policy Worries Some Sellers

Amazon is requiring certain sellers to offer a free-shipping option, and it has some sellers nervous that it’s a sign of things to come. Amazon issued the following notice to sellers in late March:

“To help provide customers with the best possible buying experience, Amazon is implementing a new shipping policy in the Shoes, Handbags & Sunglasses category. Starting May 24, 2016, a free shipping option will be required for all listings in this category with an item price of $49 or more.”

A reader who forwarded the notice he received said, “What do you make of this announcement? Wave of the future?”

Amazon explained in its announcement that the free shipping requirement would apply to all products properly listed in the Shoes, Handbags & Sunglasses category, including shoes-laces, shoe-horns, and all other shoe accessories. It advised sellers to update their listings “to help ensure that your listings remain active and buyable.”

The reader said he doesn’t sell in that category. “My concern is that this is a test and it’ll become a requirement for all categories down the road. I would hate to end up in a position to have to choose between offering free shipping (causing me to have to raise my prices), or leaving AMZ. I’ve never been a fan of free shipping because when you build in that cost, customers end up paying more on multiple sale purchases, and on international purchases. That said, Amazon is the first place I look for personal purchases, as a Prime member. If Amazon wants to make pennies on each sale, good for them, but I can’t afford to do that.”

Sellers also expressed their concern on the Amazon discussion boards. “We offer free shipping on the majority of our items but this is over-reach,” said one seller. “Yes, yes, their playground, etc. but where does it end once Amazon starts requiring how a small business prices their products on this site? Is expansion of this free shipping coming to other categories next? Free return shipping in the future too?”

“I don’t know what to think of this either,” wrote another. “Why this category and why now? Luckily I don’t sell in that category but it makes me wonder if it’s going to be happening more and more????”

However, it’s important to note that sellers don’t have to offer free shipping across the board. When one seller asked, “Wouldn’t every buyer just choose the free shipping option or is there a catch,” a seller responded: “Economy shipping has a relatively long delivery estimate, so some buyers will pick the faster speed just because. It allows for some flexibility in offering shipping choices. You can add the lowest priced shipping method into the default price, and then add the difference into the more expensive methods.”

Another seller reassured colleagues writing, “They didn’t say you can’t charge shipping. They said for items over $49 there has to ALSO be a free shipping option. So you can charge for standard, expedited and express, and offer a free slow boat to China economy shipping.”

Interestingly the move comes after Amazon provided all sellers with access to its Selling on Amazon platform, which gives sellers the ability to offer free shipping except in the Books, Music, Video, and DVD category.

Note that Amazon limits the addition of new sellers in the Shoes, Handbags & Sunglasses category “to ensure that customers are able to buy with confidence from all sellers on Amazon.com.” In addition it doesn’t allow the sale of used goods in that category.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.