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Ina Steiner on EmailIna Steiner on LinkedinIna Steiner on Twitter
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). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

29 thoughts on “Survey: Why Sellers Are Concerned over “Free” Shipping Push”

  1. I used to offer free shipping on Ebay but found that discourage buyers from purchasing multiple items because the shipping cost for each time was built into the price. While this was fine with single items it caused the pricing to be excessive when buyers made multiple purchases and I wound up spending more time fielding offers on multiple items and then having to send an invoice for it. I don’t know how it will work on Etsy as i do not sell on the site, but Ebay has made it impossible to alter pricing for sales tax or shipping multiple items when you offer Free shipping unless the Seller jumps through a bunch of hoops to figure out what they should be paying. I am not saying I will never offer Free shipping on any site, but all it becomes is another money grab by the marketplaces when buyers make multiple purchases and the shipping is already built into the item pricing.

  2. I sell fine art. Some paintings ship for $40+. I would lose $’s if I offered free shipping, plus the items are unique, if someone really wants a painting, they will purchase it. It’s not something that can be mass produced and found elsewhere. Customers aren’t stupid and know shipping fees are built into the price and will compare. I barely go to Amazon anymore b/c the products there have all the fees built in to the prices. It’s usually cheaper from the source than Amazon. Etsy has a lot of mass produced items and they will prob be the ones to offer it. If your products are truly unique, then there shouldn’t be much to worry about. People should boycott free shipping and not bother. We hold the power.

    1. I agree. I have tried offering free shipping on most items in my shop and found sales did NOT increase one bit, and in one such experiment, I had a decline in sales year-over-year. Etsy shoppers know they aren’t buying from drop shippers and don’t expect free shipping on OOAK and rare items. You never see Cowan’s or Sotheby’s offering free shipping!

      Maybe it works for suppliers of mass-produced craft supplies, but it doesn’t work for antiques and art.

  3. We rarely comment on the blogsites about the constant changes to various venues. We glean what we can and move on; we have a business to run. Reading this article, though, really makes me scratch my head.

    We have ALWAYS offered free shipping to our customers. We know it’s not really free, and THEY know it’s not really free, but in every survey I’ve ever read and in my own personal experience, folks just tend to gravitate towards an all inclusive bottom line. There seems to be this notion that sellers who include all the pricing up front might be more trustworthy or something. I’m not really sure what it is. All I can say is that over the years, we firmly believe that offering free shipping has separated us apart from those who don’t and put us in a more favorable light — read that “more sales”.

    Furthermore, we include it at the Cost of Goods level, so we’re actually making money on shipping. We sell at a 3 times markup, and that includes shipping. Our products are all handmade so buyers can’t do exact price comparisons. We charge whatever we feel is appropriate and if sells, good, and if doesn’t, we re-evaluate. We let the market determine if our prices are out of line. Back when we used to sell on eBay, we sold so cheaply that we never made any money. Now, we’re making more than we ever have on 1/20th of the sales. Adding shipping to COG just made sense.

    The only downside we see to Etsy encouraging EVERYONE to offer free shipping is that one day, we’ll just part of the herd, rather than part of the select few who offer shipping for free.

    But we’ll figure something else out — we always do.

    In the meantime, our sales are sharply up right now, and we were trying to figure out why. Not complaining, mind you, just curious. Being bumped up in visibility because we offer free shipping sounds great to me.

    We just don’t understand all those sellers that are whining and crying about being forced to do something that just makes sense to do. ALL of the surveys and research regarding free shipping show that it increases sales. No brainer. Just figure out how to make it work for you.

    I mean, just think about those annoying WayFair ads where the guy says “Free Shipping? Game changer!”.

    That could be YOUR customer…

      1. From the comment, it sounds like costume jewelry. Clearly, every market operates exactly the same. That’s why it’s so hard for her to understand that different products have different sizes and different weights – it’s impossible!

        1. My items range from ounces to 50 pounds. It is not impossible at all. It does require a deep understanding of the shipping metrics that pertain to a particular business however. You need to know where the product generally goes and develop a melded cost that is then folded into the product. AND it is an ongoing process not a one time effort.

          I have no issue with including shipping in my price … and it really is free shipping when no part of the individual transaction is buyer punitive. No cost of original shipping or restocking charge if a customer returns the product for instance.

          So sure shipping is not free to me, neither was the gizmo being purchased, the packing materials, my internet service, or any and all other overheads involved in operations. Cost to carrier is simply another expense, nothing more and nothing less and although size, weight, and location weigh on the expense it is not the buyers concern. Their concern is to look at the total selling price, (and it matters not if it is a single line or two lines), and then decide if the product meets their value ratio.

    1. You should look at who is conducting those surveys and whether or not there’s a conflict of interest. In Etsy’s case, they even manipulate test results, making sure the numbers are high by offering free shipping site-wide during the test period.

      Also, you should consider that “free” shipping has been around for a while now and many consumers are beginning to wise up to what’s going on. A shopper often finds themselves paying more for a product than they normally would if free shipping weren’t offered. If they’re questioning it on one product, that would certainly hurt multiple item sales even more.

      As you said yourself, you have an advantage because you sell unique, handmade items and have the luxury of setting your own prices and only let the market drive your prices if something isn’t selling. Vintage and antique sellers are forced to base their prices on market value, which fluctuates constantly, and many items can be costly to ship.

      Even a small, lightweight breakable takes a lot of extra padding to protect it en route. Some things are so fragile that they require double-boxing, especially if it ships internationally or to a domestic location known for mistreating packages (I’ve had customers warn me about their postal peeps). That’s a lot to roll into a price that’s set by the market and is the very reason we need to keep our shipping separate.

      Anywho, I truly am pleased that things are going well for you and you obviously have the ability to adapt when necessary. I just wanted to help you understand why it doesn’t work for everyone.

    2. Maybe you can help me out since you don’t think there is any reason for someone like me to “whine” about this issue. I’m on the East coast. A marble lamp costs $25 to ship within my zone. The same lamp would cost $100 to ship to LA. Short of eliminating this item from my inventory (which I surmise would be what you might offer as a solution), how would you suggest this quandary be solved? This “one size fits all approach” seems to be a non-issue for you; why would you suggest that it should not be an issue for any seller on the platform? What do you sell, if you don’t mind the question? Genuinely curious.

      1. I would just like to add that I’m more centrally located on the Texas Gulf Coast, but the differences in cost between zones are still rather significant. So, despite what others who don’t live in my area have claim, it’s not easier for a seller in Texas to finagle “free” shipping.

  4. It’s a form of fraud, telling buyers they are getting free shipping when Etsy is actual encouraging sellers to HIDE the cost of shipping in higher prices to the buyer. Eventually, some sellers will sue and the courts will determine fraud has been committed and Etsy will have to refund those costs to buyers through a class action suit. Big $ will be spent defending Etsy, more than they would spend by reimbursing sellers to ship free.

    Oh well, time to look for a new sales platform. Etsy is now driven by copying every failed policy eBay tries.

  5. I just saw this announcement at an Etsy shop:
    “Prices will go sky high on July 30 to accommodate costs to provide “Free Shipping.” Some items will double in price because we can’t predict shipping costs to all locations anymore. If you live in Chicago, you will be forced to pay the same shipping cost as someone in Hawaii. We have no way to control this since Etsy is mandating that we offer that imaginary perk called “Free Shipping” and that we “hide” the shipping costs in the price of the item. It’s meant to give you a feeling that you are getting something for nothing, but you aren’t. Etsy will likely close my shop when they see this announcement, so buy today while (shop name redacted) is still open. It would be better for Etsy to reimburse us for the cost of shipping if it is such an important factor in how people decide to buy OOAK, handmade items and precious antiques. Maybe it works for drop shippers of Made in China goods, but it doesn’t work for Etsy.”

  6. I am a 95% buyer and 5% seller so my judgment may be clouded. Stop complaining and just give the free shipping. Done. As a buyer I know that shipping costs are built in and I love knowing that if I buy widget A it will only cost $x.xx. I don’t have to speculate on what my total might be. When I buy anything I have found that by getting free shipping vs a lower price plus shipping I 99% come out on top. I’m glad that this change is being made.

    As a side note, if you think your items are so unique that shoppers will still come then why don’t you have your own site. Stop relying on another name. If you can’t sell it and make a profit then don’t sell it. No one is forcing you to sell anything.

    1. Etsy shows you the shipping cost of every item right on the listing page. There should never be a doubt what your final cost will be. As a buyer, you don’t understand what sellers go through and what things actually cost. A buyer in Chicago buys and item that cost $2.70 to ship, but because I don’t know who will buy it or where they will want it shipped, I have to add $7.00 to the price of the item to cover the cost of “free shipping.” That means YOU pay $4.30 MORE than it would have cost you if things were just honest and you knew what shipping actually cost. Only a person who can’t do math would thing that’s better for the buyer.

  7. Felyne has it.. the small seller doesn’t have a warehousing like Amazon.. And that’s why you see the china whines.. You wait 3-5 weeks for subsidized shipping direct. Amazon will free ship but the price point is higher and an educated consumer knows this.. I just listed a vintage vacuum yesterday.. I actually stuck this at the back end of my listing. “This vacuum weighs 35 lbs shipped and the package size is quite large. Shipping charges can not be adjusted. We are on the east coast and apologize to those on the west coast. We know there is a great vacuum collecting tradition there.”

    I’d be less concerned with the free shipping push, and more concerned about the free return push..

  8. @sylvarocks Looks like you sell jewelry? If you read the comments, sellers say they *do* offer free shipping on jewelry. The problems sellers describe, which I would not characterize as “whining,” are legitimate. Having just written about the DIM Weight rate changes the USPS instituted in June, I can attest to the fact that this is not a made-up problem.

    1. Hi Ina;

      There may be exceptions, but for the most part, you can figure shipping on an averaging basis rather than on a per item basis. Our shipping costs anywhere from $2-ish to $4-ish. We charge enough to cover it “on average”.

      Let’s look at it this way. If places like Wayfair can figure put how to do free shipping on a wide variety of products being shipped to a wide variety of locations, surely a small sekller can handle it.

      The other thing is that we’re the type of people who takes thing as they are, and adapts when things change. There is opportunity in each of these changes if you look for it and adapt.

      I think it bears repeating. There is a LOT of complaining and whining and crying and moaning and groaning and Wo is ME… There is so much “I’m gonna quit ’cause I’ve gotta put the cost of shipping into the price instead of adding it to the price after the sale. The math can be the same. All that’s different is tapping into a customer profile that’s CONDITIONED to buy FREE SHIPPING quicker than not.

      There’s an opportunity here. Seize it.

        1. Also, you seem to be forgetting that Etsy is forcing this on sellers if they want to be seen in Etsy search. Why should a seller be anymore obligated than the next guy to offer free shipping just to be seen in search when they pay the same amount in rent?

          So, essentially, they’re saying that they’re going to kill your business if you don’t comply. I’m sorry, but I don’t operate on those terms. If you want to consider that whining, then that’s just fine. I’ve spent decades working for executives in the corporate world in a variety of industries, so I’m confident that I can see this latest move of Etsy’s for what it really is.

  9. Why This “Buyer” is Concerned Over “Free” Shipping Push…I Sell and Buy on Ebay. I buy from Etsy. I know how much time and effort goes into photography, descriptions, wrapping, shipping. When I buy and receive a piece of vintage jewelry that is wrapped in a box and tied with a bow I know that the seller goes the extra mile and that it cuts into their profit. I know that I am not being ripped off on postage that costs under $4.00.
    Ebay’s “sponsored/promoted” listings and now Etsy’s “free shipping” listings are a huge turn off to me as a buyer because it makes finding what I want to buy more difficult. All these listings by lemmings at the top of every search result. (to say nothing of how ebay’s ridiculous Good Until Canceled on Buy It Now has complicated how much more time it takes to search through items to buy). Once again, the ability to find unique, fairly priced items from the smaller, hard-working seller who is not willing or able to spend the extra money to “promote” or offer “free” shipping has been eroded due to final, forced decisions made by Ivory Tower jerks with no vision.

  10. Giving listings with free shipping priority in the search results is NOT the same as suppressing other listings. Suppressing listings would be hiding them, which I do not believe to be Etsy’s plan at this time.

    Listings without free shipping may rank lower in the search results, but they will still be visible to those who look that far.

    1. I did a search for bedding and there were over 530K results, but Etsy only displayed 250 pages of items that totaled 14K — a mere 2.6% of what is available. So, how can you say that Etsy isn’t suppressing listings when they do it with just about any search query?

  11. I think the thing we’re not seeing here is that Josh has figured a way to encourage people to increase the final value fee so Etsy’s fees, and the shareholders’ value is increased, timed to start with the Q3. (Every time someone orders more than one item and pays double hidden shipping, Etsy takes a cut.) Then The Q4 sales are usually higher due to the holiday sales. Don’t know what craptastic idea Josh has for January (Q1, 2020). Sellers aren’t going to be able to keep ripping off customers while being leveraged by the the shareholders. Further, Josh will say he didn’t personally make the change, only made a suggestion, and is not liable if we are sued. It’s time to get an independent site before the holidays, or at least plan to migrate to another platform in January. This is going to go badly for sellers. Leveraging unethical behavior is how it starts. Then there’s a new normal of cheating your customers, and that’s when fraud starts to take over the business.

    1. Tinysaurs you hit the nail on the head, All of this is to increase GMS (Gross Merchandise Sales) which is the way Etsy calculates its sales for quarterly reports, it doesn’t include shipping in those calculations. Now with “free shipping” added to the price of goods it then becomes part of those calculations, thats why its imperative to be worded as “free shipping”. Increased Sales in reports and happy shareholders whats not to like?

  12. If you want free shipping, come buy from me at a convention. I have no obligation to provide a $9 handout on a $20 toy online.

  13. At Midnight, the beginning of July 30th,
    Let us ALL “vacation” our shops for ONE WEEK.
    Turn them back on Midnight August 7.

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