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How to Keep Shoppers Interested When Free Shipping Isn't an Option

By Michelle McSweeney

Free shipping. It’s a real head-scratcher, isn’t it? On the one hand, we know for a fact that customers want it - we know that not offering free shipping is one of the main reasons why potential customers leave sites without buying anything. So what? Has free shipping become a mandatory requirement for all online fashion brands? And what about the brands that simply can’t afford to offer free shipping to their customers – are they essentially setting themselves up for failure?

Free shipping doesn’t have to be the be all and end all for your online store. As it turns out, there are plenty of ways that you can crank your shipping options up a gear to satisfy your customers, without having to bump up the sale price of your products. The key lies in the way you frame your shipping policy to give your customers perceived value.

Here are some alternatives to free shipping that you can implement into your digital commerce strategy:

Option 1: Leverage your average basket size

Do you know what your average basket size is? If the answer is yes, fantastic! If the answer is no, on the other hand, it should, without question, be the next thing on your to-do list (after reading this blog, of course!).

So let’s just say that you know that your average basket size is £40. Can you offer customers free shipping on all orders over £50? That way, you’re giving the customer the option of free shipping, as well as increasing your average order value in the process. Obviously, offering free shipping will always mean having to sacrifice some of your margin to absorb the cost, but, if done strategically, you can ensure that you’re still making a profit.

Woman putting apple in basket

Option 2: Offer ‘click and collect’ as a shipping alternative

It’s predicted that by 2025, click and collect will account for 10% of all sales in the UK, while in-store purchases will decline to 60%. So if you have a physical store, offering your customers click and collect as a delivery option should be at the top of your agenda, especially if you don’t offer free shipping on online orders. That way, you’re still giving your customers the option to receive their items for free.

Sure, it might not be free shipping in the traditional sense, but by giving your customers options, you can effectively fuel a mentality shift from ‘I’m buying your products, I don’t want to pay for shipping because I don’t get anything in return,’ to ‘I don’t have to pay for shipping, I’ve been given the option to collect my order in-store for free.’

When you give your customers options, it puts them in the driving seat, meaning that they are no longer ‘forced’ to pay for shipping.

Woman clicking mouse

Option 3: Introduce an express/expedited shipping option

As much as customers are interested in free shipping, it turns out that they are just as keen on fast shipping too! 76% of shoppers say that having multiple fulfilment options influences their purchasing decision. Once again, customers love to have options, and the stats show that demand is high for express shipping.

So, maybe it’s worth taking a look at what your average shipping time is and seek to offer an expedited service at a higher cost, while simultaneously decreasing your standard shipping pricing. That way, your overall shipping costs should balance out, and you’re still giving your customers value in that they know they will receive their items faster if they pay a little extra for delivery.

Long exposure motorway

Option 4:  Charge for shipping, but offer free returns

Offering your customers free returns is one of those things that is great in theory, but in practice, could potentially open up a massive can of worms for your business. From a customer’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer. Remember, 81% of consumers are unlikely to make a future purchase when shipping fees are charged. However, let’s not forget that from a customer’s perspective, free shipping is also a no brainer! We’re talking about the overall cost implications for your business here.

The reality of the situation is that offering free returns is likely going to encourage more returns. Returning items that have been purchased online has never been easier - so much so that consumers are buying multiples of products with the intent of returning the majority of them. Return rates often run in excess of 30% in certain product categories. So, depending on what you sell, the question is this - can your business really afford to offer free returns on 30% of all of the items you sell?

Coins falling out of a jar

It ultimately comes down to a couple of things: what your current return rate is, and what your margins are. If you can project a specific increase in your return rate as a result of offering free returns, and you can still afford to absorb that cost, then go for it. Because being able to highlight your free returns policy right next to your (not free) shipping policy on your online store gives you an opportunity to spark that perceived value in the minds of your customers, making it easier for them to overcome the barrier to convert.

Ultimately, it goes without saying (but we're going to say it anyway!). If you can afford to offer your customers free shipping, by all means, DO IT! However, the reality is that it's not always possible for every retailer to be in a position to offer free shipping. And you know what? That's ok. Because at the end of the day, in the mind of the customer, free shipping ultimately means getting added value to their purchases. So if you can add that value elsewhere, be it through click and collect, expedited shipping, or free returns, your customers are far more likely to convert - shipping fees, or no shipping fees.

Michelle McSweeney, Content Marketing Specialist, Kooomo

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