Free shipping in e-commerce: should we go for it or not?

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You've probably seen this happen to more than one of your customers. They're about to finalize their online purchase, just one click away from completing the whole process, and BAM! The buyer realizes that the shipping fees are almost (or more) expensive than the lovely shirt they were thinking of wearing to their company's upcoming Christmas dinner.

At that dreaded moment, your potential brand ambassador (the one who was going to show off the shirt at the party to many colleagues, and therefore potential new customers) decides to close the browser window, almost breaking the mouse in frustration, thinking: "Do I really want a shirt that's going to cost me more to have it delivered than what they paid the person who made it?".

Shipping costs for online store products are always a headache for sellers. Few e-commerce owners sit down to evaluate the pros and cons of such a crucial element that can lead to situations like the one experienced by our imaginary customer from the company dinner. Therefore, we believe that a significant part of an online store's planning should be dedicated to agreeing on appropriate prices to achieve interesting conversion rates.

Included in this planning is FREE SHIPPING, one of the most compelling conversion elements in an online store. For some, offering free shipping might seem like madness, but for others, it might be the key to soaring their online store as high as a rocket. But is this an effective strategy?

The magic word: "FREE"

It's one of the most powerful words in the consumer sphere. Nobody can resist something at no cost. In the world of online shopping, no one says no to a product delivered to their doorstep without having to pay extra for the delivery person to hand over the eagerly awaited product package. Therefore, offering free shipping gives customers the feeling they got a bargain, even though we all know it's just in their/our minds (who said Amazon?). There are very detailed (and rigorous) studies showing that adding this magic word somewhere increases the number of orders in an online store significantly compared to those without any "freebies".

But, as the saying goes, there's no such thing as a free lunch. In the end, someone has to pay for the shipping, right? Meaning, the delivery agency will charge you, the online store owner, even if you plaster the word "free" all over your website. So, bear in mind that you'll have to absorb that cost. What do we do in this case? Well, it depends: some choose to add a slight increase to their product prices as compensation, which is a bit sneaky, but hey, you've got to make a profit somehow, right?

Increased loyalty

It's clear that when someone doesn't pay for shipping in an online store, he will probably return. He'll think that products in your store are "cheaper" than competitors simply because the final cart cost is lower. Sounds simple, right? Are you losing some money along the way? In this case, it's better to think long-term, and it'll be worth it in the end.

But here's the million-dollar question: TOTAL FREE? Meaning, do we make ALL orders free, regardless of their cost? That's a tough one. Our recommendation is NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT. As we mentioned earlier, regardless of which option we choose, the price to pay the courier company won't disappear. So, there are other options that can further encourage purchases without offering free shipping from the start.

What's the trick? You probably already have an idea, but we'll tell you anyway, even if it's not that surprising: the best approach is to set a limit above which purchases have free shipping, like the classic "free shipping on orders over 60$". Notice the detail here: you're likely increasing the average order value while giving a benefit to the customer. They win (or think they win, hehe), and you win. What more could you ask for?

There are other options, like offering 48 hours of free shipping across the entire website. You might earn a bit less because you're absorbing the shipping cost, but sales will increase, and therefore revenues, in a short period. We also love this option.

Summary + pros and cons of free shipping

In short, free shipping can be like adding Tabasco to lentils: a few drops make them delicious, but overdo it, and you'll burn your taste buds. It's better to start little by little, test to see if it's working, analyze results, and stick with what worked best for both the customer and you as the store owner.

Pros:

  • Increased sales, as they incentivize buyers.
  • Attracting more customers and retaining existing ones.
  • Advantage over competitors.

Cons:

  • Higher costs for business owners, which can be absorbed or not in some way.
  • Some customers might take advantage of free shipping.
  • Customers get used to "the good stuff", and if you offer free shipping throughout the store, you might not be able to do away with it without losing customers.

What can Super Shipping for WooCommerce offer you in this game of free shipping?

By now, you might be wondering how to set up an advanced free shipping system in your online store (especially if you don't just want to offer blanket free shipping). You've probably realized that the options WooCommerce offers for this are severely limited, to the point where you can't set a zero-cost shipping fee after a certain amount or offer this discount on specific products, or whatever comes to mind.

You'll need a plugin like Super Shipping for WooCommerce, which will give you the ability to bring your ideas to life, even the most outlandish ones (within reason), in your online store's shipping policies. Many customers already trust our fantastic shipping plugin for WooCommerce and enjoy its ability to overcome this hurdle. We invite you to try our demo or contact us if you need clarification. You won't be disappointed!

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