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Wed Sept 28 2011 00:07:54

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

By: Ina Steiner

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Shipping cost is a hot-button issue for Internet retailers, who are squeezed between consumers who want free shipping, and carriers who raise rates each year. And the pressure on online sellers dramatically increases during the holiday shopping season, especially as big brands who advertise free shipping train consumers to expect such offers.

eBay sellers face an additional challenge this year since eBay now charges a commission fee on shipping costs as an inducement for sellers to lower shipping prices. This will be the first holiday shopping season since the new policy went into effect, and no one knows quite how this will impact sales.

Many sellers use shipping discounts as an incentive to buyers to increase order size. A recent post in the Yahoo Stores blog demonstrates this in a screenshot where they show a checkout cart for an order of $5.99 that displays the message, "Add $19.01 more to your order to qualify for free Ground (5-7 days) shipping."

But by offering free shipping across the board, this opportunity to encourage shoppers to buy more is lost.

The Yahoo blog post also reminds merchants about Free Shipping Day, which falls on December 16 this year, and summarizes some of the things merchants need to consider when formulating their holiday marketing promotions around shipping.

We'd like to know if you offer free shipping and what you have planned for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Do you offer shipping discounts?
Do you offer free shipping on certain items or on all of your products?
Do you offer free shipping with a minimum order amount?

Let us know what your strategy is going into the 2011 holiday shopping season and how you are coping with the pressure to lower shipping costs!




Comments (41) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: DLM Entertainment This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Sep 28 01:29:07 2011

You know, every year I offer huge discounts, free shipping, so on and so on and it never really impacted sales.  This year, I'm actually contemplating offering....nothing at all.  No discount.  Full price, full shipping.  Maybe consumers are tired of everybody offering the moon and the stars.  To quote George Costanza on Seinfeld, "Everybody's doing something, we'll do NOTHING!"

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: massachusetts howler

Wed Sep 28 02:09:45 2011

NO!

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: pete

Wed Sep 28 02:15:20 2011

Should it not read read shipping inclusive? or are the post office working for nothing now a days...are buyers really so stupid...guess so

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Joe Average

Wed Sep 28 02:38:36 2011

There is no free lunch.

I can provide free shipping but the cost becomes built into the product. So now my product appears to be over-priced.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Penny Bank

Wed Sep 28 07:51:59 2011

> Should it not read
> read shipping inclusive?''

Sigh. Again?

And should ''Call us TOLL FREE'' actually be ''Call us without paying separately and we'll eventually crank the actual costs into our products and services''

I think that most consumers understand that ''FREE'' shipping means that there's no extra cost involved and no surprises awaiting them at checkout. They understand that it's being paid for somewhere along the line.

Fortunately, I do not have any customers who are irrationally obsessive about me being so literal when describing the fact that I do not charge and extra separate fee to cover the shipping costs.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

This user has validated their user name. by: basset

Wed Sep 28 08:27:00 2011

Shipping is not free, so I do not have "free" shipping for the items I sell. I try to charge reasonable prices for the item & my shipping includes a small addition to insure the item arrives safely. I'm doing OK in sales - they are actually increasing a bit but I don't attribute this to what I charge or don't charge for shipping.
On the buying end: My household buys a very large percentage of our needs & wants online. We KNOW shipping is not "free" so the "free shipping" "deals" seem a bit gimmicky & less-than-honest at this point. We do not search by "free" shipping but instead look at total price of items that come up in the search. Most times the best deals are those which have separate shipping charges.
What I really don't like though, is large department stores that charge close to $10 to ship a tube of lipstick!!!

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Et tu, Brute!

Wed Sep 28 09:41:58 2011

No, I will not this year!

I have offered steep discounts the last three years.  I compared over these with my stiffest competitor, who did NOT offer any free shipping OR discounts of ANY KIND, and dollar for dollar over THREE YEARS there was absolutely NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER!  

I'm not going to knock myself out this year over it!

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: HarmonyGroveAntiques This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 28 09:42:51 2011

We sell antique furniture so Ebay tagging on their fees to shipping has cost us big time! The answer ia and always will be, Heck No! Shipping a desk is not free. Never was and never will be.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: A Nony Mouse

Wed Sep 28 09:44:03 2011

The concern sellers had over at Etsy with the new ads at the top of each page has come to pass.

Items are showing up at the top in the ads that have nothing to do with the category they are in.  And the tags are just fine.

And yeah, the forums are on it already!

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Tired of eBay's Bullsh*t This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 28 09:57:11 2011

Shipping is not free, so no "free shipping" for me ... ever.

I'm mighty tired of eBay pushing (take your pick) agenda down my throat. What's next? "Free sales tax" ??? (ie: Seller eats the sales tax for in-state sales).

I don't do gimmicks DonnyBoy.

What I do do is charge FAIRLY for shipping. I set the weight in the shipping calculator a pound or so below actual weight. This makes it easy (and honest) for me to tell my customers that there is no "handling fee" charge.

I truly believe that buyers are smart enough to care only about the TOTAL price, and as long as they see that up front, whether the seller wraps the shipping-cost into the item and calls it "free", or whether shipping is shown separately ... jeez, eBay treats both sellers and buyers as if they were 2-year-olds.

Just plain stupid and INCOMPETENT.

- Tired of eBay's Bullsh*t

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: MR ME

Wed Sep 28 10:51:44 2011

Sorry Rebecca, there is no such thing as "Free Shipping".
Ebay's fixation with "Free" shipping has screwed up things for both sellers and buyers. Adding fee to shipping cost, makes items more expensive for all.
For a seller such as myself who regularly ships 30-50 lb items, the whole free shipping thing is ridiculous, as shipping costs vary wildly depending upon location. I am on the west coast and have always offered "honest shipping" which has dinged my DSR stars.
Shopping on eBay shows that there are still lots of shipping "gougers" out there ($15 to ship a not fragile 8 oz item), so the whole "free shipping" push hasn't eliminated this.
overall prices are better on Amazon, so I buy most items there..

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: anyone out there yet

Wed Sep 28 10:59:47 2011

When the FVF on shipping came out I just added 10% to everything and gave free shipping.

Haven't changed, ain't going to change.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: liz

Wed Sep 28 11:23:47 2011

I've been offering ''Free Shipping'' (with a qualifying paragraph telling my buyers that the item price ''INCLUDES'' the cost of shipping, handling, insurance)for several months and it seems to be working well. I must add that I buy my inventory mainly at garage sales where I pay really low prices. I can certainly understand why sellers with heavy items would not and should not offer free shipping as the cost would look exorbitant. I guess what ever works is the best thing to do.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

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

Wed Sep 28 11:37:32 2011

In my line of small collectibles up to sometimes 56x7x7" sized ones I charge separately for shipping, offer discounts for combining lots.  
Other than that, I'll add in an additional 15% to the shipping amount to cover eBay's charges (especially hslpful on expensive foreign postage).

For heavier items - I let eBay's cost calculator handle the amount and for lower weight stuff I'll just list the postage.

I tried free postage on some of what I perceived "price sensitive" items & didn't get any different results. Naturally "free shipping" is not free, but the price starts at a higher level.

Also, if you are selling "stuff" for a 3rd party, how are you going to offer "free"??

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Gypsy This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 28 12:05:26 2011

I can't afford to offer free shipping on everything. I do offer discounts on additional items purchased. I offer free shipping on a few select items but in order to make any money, i also have to raise the price of the items that ship free.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: winnergirl This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Sep 28 12:17:55 2011

I have been an eBay seller for ten years and I believe that eBay has a liberal mentality at the top, and is run by workers, not doers. They run surveys and buyers say they want free shipping, well they also want to win the lottery and not have to work. In other words the surveys get desires, not truth. I do not offer free shipping on most items, I only have free shipping on a few things such as flat rate, where I know what the cost is and I know how much to add to the cost. Also, when eBay added the fee to the shipping, well what's the dif, it's just another way to increase fees, if I add it separately or include it in the price, the fees the same. I don't get bidders much anymore, so I have a new system, I put an item up for auction, if it doesn't get bids I put it into my store, often at a higher price, and it sells - go figure. LOL I make less money than I used to, since eBay has pushed me into sometimes losing money on shipping with their stupid DSR ratings. I've looked around and eBay is still the best selling source, so I stay.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Tracktronics This user has validated their user name.
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Wed Sep 28 12:20:47 2011

I have being offering free shipping on 90 % of my sales for the last 2 years. Free shipping to continental USA has worked for me for the past two years, but I mainly sell small items, I don't offer free shipping for large items because then the product price would look to high. I think most people know that there's nothing free, free shipping means shipping cost is included in the final price. But I think it sure makes it nice to know you only have one price to pay at check-out. It makes it much simpler for the programing code on your shopping cart. I am even looking to offer free shipping to my international buyers, and have tried different options, but I am still not there yet. I am wondering if any other sellers are doing free international shipping and how they have set it up.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: RAOTFLMAO

Wed Sep 28 12:27:48 2011

I tried the old free shipping deal for a week.  On items I usually sell for $30 and $12 shipping I was so surprised (not) the items still sold for around $30....I was out the shipping, no increase in sales.  Sorry, I am back to charging for shipping. I think unless you are selling the same old "widget" with about 100 other ebay sellers then free shipping is not a factor.  I have added about 20% to my prices to cover ebay and paypal fees.  I used to never do this but now I use ebay to drive buyers to my own site, to other sites and to private off ebay sales....OH MY!! is that the ebay police knocking at my door?????

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Barb

Wed Sep 28 14:43:16 2011

In my 12 years of selling on ebay, I have never had free shipping.  I assumed people were smart and that they could add the shipping price and the price of item together to see if that was a good deal.  Considering I can sell a pair of pants that retailed for $300 for $19.99 + $6.00 for shipping, that is a good deal.

Well, I lost my top rated seller status because I got dinged too many times on the shipping cost.  So, this week, I listed 600 auctions all with free shipping.  I increased the price of the items by $15-$20 and even more on some items.  I sell high-end stuff.  You cannot buy what I sell for what I sell it for.

I am quite surprised at the number of bids placed.  I sell a lot anyway, but the prices are WAY higher than if the buyer paid for the item at my lower starting bid with shipping.

So, this is going to be an expensive experiment.  Hopefully, it will pay off in the long run.

Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?   Can You Afford to Offer Free Shipping during the Holidays?

by: Digmen1

Wed Sep 28 14:58:39 2011

Yes well know Free shipping is not free.

But the real question is how many people are offering it.
If everyone is, we all have to.
If not many are, then we can carry on with sensible charging.

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