“Today’s customer totally expects that they don’t have to pay for shipping,” Jean said. “I call it the Amazon effect. All these people sign up for Amazon prime – which costs them money! – but they think they’re getting the shipping for free. When customers go to my website and place an order, they want the same free shipping…even though they’re not paying me a membership fee!”
Amazon and Walmart are leaders in the free shipping arena. Together, these two mega-retailers have a disproportionate impact on American business. They do influence customer expectations, but small businesses can’t necessarily afford to provide free shipping on the same scale. There are numerous ways Boston business owners are addressing this challenge.
The first step is finding a reliable shipping service that understands the concerns of small business owners. For best results, choose a shipping company that’s experienced, professional, and familiar with the types of materials you’re shipping. Some items, particularly fragile or high tech items, need special packaging to arrive at your customer in good shape.
The second step varies by the business owner’s decision. Some owners opt to adjust their pricing structure, raising costs across the board to absorb the cost of ‘free shipping’. Another strategy is to require a minimum purchase to qualify for free shipping. This is the option Jean chose. “Customers are used to the idea of a minimum purchase, and if they’re going to buy that much, I’ll eat the cost of shipping as the cost of doing business.” She recommends being very strategic about the minimum purchase level. “You don’t want to set it so high that no one qualifies for free shipping, but too low is no good either.” A final approach is to offer some types of shipping for free, such as USPS ground shipping, but charging customers for faster alternatives.