Let’s Talk About Free Shipping

Sometimes it seems like free shipping might be the silver bullet for online selling success.

By removing a barrier of additional costs, shops usher customers more quickly towards the glittering land of Order Received. Surely by offering this relatively small incentive, a business will see overall higher sales, better conversion rates, and just a generally upward-trending graph. Right?

What matters to us at Big Cartel is that you choose the pricing and shipping solutions that work best for your business. You create your products, set your prices, choose shipping destinations, and generally run your shop your way.

As a business owner, we know you consider each of the options carefully. You shouldn’t be pressured by a platform, an algorithm, or anything else to compromise your priorities.

But if you’re still on the fence about how to handle shipping costs, let’s talk about it: the good, the bad, and the logistically complex details of offering free shipping. We don’t want to control what you decide, we just want you to know what you’re signing up for (or opting out of).

Free shipping isn’t free

Let’s debunk any confusion: Nobody is shipping things for free. They’re just changing who foots the bill. Sure, some enormous corporations can negotiate lower rates on their high volume of packages, or even create their own fleets of couriers in major cities. Some shipping providers offer price breaks, so that the smaller companies can access more competitive rates as well. Those discounts are awesome, but there’s still a cost.

When you see “free shipping” on that thing you’re eyeing, you can bet that the business owner has decided that it’s better to make a little less profit if it makes it easier for you to complete that purchase. The cost is still there, we’re just shuffling who’s responsible. If you’re a business owner looking for that magical free shipping option that your competitors seem to be using? Stop looking, it just doesn’t exist.

Free Shipping Ain't Free Illustration

Why you should show shipping as a separate cost

More and more platforms seem to be encouraging free shipping, either by not charging for this expense, or by increasing product prices to cover the cost of typical shipping. In contrast, we’re going to take a moment to advocate for outlining your shipping costs to your customers.

When you list a separate shipping cost, you:

  • Keep product prices transparent and low (because you’re not adding padding for shipping)
  • Can easily increase shipping prices as carriers adjust their rates
  • Remind shoppers about the reality of buying online
  • Cover your costs regardless of shipping destination

Why you should offer free shipping

Of course, there are two sides to the issue, and plenty of folks will tell you that there’s real value in presenting free shipping to your customers. The standard advice is to increase your product prices to give yourself a little cushion to absorb those shipping fees.

When you offer free shipping, you:

  • Keep customers where they’re comfortable, price-wise
  • Remove a moment of re-considering completing a purchase
  • Streamline and simplify

So it’s not all bad! But it’s really important to understand that the cost has to come from somewhere. As an indie business owner, you should be proud to point out that there’s a real person - with real costs - behind everything you do.

Our biggest advice is this: know your costs like the back of your hand. When you’re confident that your pricing is set up correctly with room for you to grow, you can make strategic decisions about incentives and promotions, and start taking calculated risks.

Sarah Anderson

Community at Big Cartel. Loud talker, maker at City of Industry. Semi-professional aunt. Pretty psyched about all of it.

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