Does Etsy need free shipping?

Discussion
Source: Etsy
Aug 05, 2019
Tom Ryan

In early July, Etsy introduced a new program to help sellers offer free shipping to U.S. buyers on orders of $35 or more. Many sellers are balking at the program, however, because they’re being asked to raise their item prices to cover all or a portion of the shipping costs.

“These days, online shoppers expect free shipping everywhere they go,” wrote Etsy CEO Josh Silverman in a letter to sellers. “Etsy is no exception.” 

Shoppers on the online marketplace for vintage and artisan goods are 20 percent more likely to complete their purchase when the item is marked as shipping for free. Mr. Silverman argued that the cost of shipping “should be considered like the cost of your materials and other business expenses” when setting prices.

On last week’s second-quarter conference call, he said fewer than 30 percent of listings on Etsy last year offered free domestic shipping and a significant number of items had additional shipping prices that buyers perceive to be unreasonably high.

Etsy’s tests showed that beyond higher conversions, items offering free shipping drove increased site frequency as well as higher average order value as buyers purchased more from the same shop to reach the $35 minimum. The increased conversion and higher average order “significantly” outweighed the “small contraction” when a portion of shipping costs was bundled into pricing.

Mr. Silverman told analysts, “Seller adoption has been promising to date and our plan is to begin actively marketing free shipping to buyers starting in September.”

On Twitter and online forums, numerous sellers expressed concerns about the perceived value of their items when shipping costs are absorbed into pricing. They also lamented having to cover the costs of shipping an item across the country versus not being able to offer a lower shipping fee to a nearby buyer.

In an interview with Business Insider, Mr. Silverman acknowledged some seller concerns, “We know that this is going to be a lot for sellers to absorb — it’s a real change in how they think about pricing.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How open should Etsy’s sellers be to participating in the free shipping program and its tradeoffs? Do you agree that consumers shopping online are more turned off by shipping fees than higher sticker prices?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I am less inclined to look for free shipping on sites like Etsy because I know the items I buy are sold by indie merchants and craftsmen. "
"Etsy isn’t Amazon and indie sellers aren’t global brands. I bet sellers would appreciate having the option to select their own free-shipping threshold amount."
"A company like Etsy can only have a strong relationship with investors by having a strong relationships with sellers. All other investor “wins” are purely short term."

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8 Comments on "Does Etsy need free shipping?"


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Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I am less inclined to look for free shipping on sites like Etsy because I know the items I buy are sold by indie merchants and craftsmen.

I understand the sellers’ hesitation because the cost of shipping an item across the country versus across town is significantly more. As a consumer I don’t want to be penalized because Etsy’s free shipping policy is inflexible.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I just received an interesting email from a consumer regarding this post:
“So many of the small artists I follow on Instagram are leaving Etsy because of the free shipping, it’s not Amazon.”

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Prime aside, even on Amazon free shipping isn’t free.

The shopper is paying for shipping. You may not see it as a separate charge, but it is in the price.

That being said, free shipping is the ante to play the game.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Mr. Silverman is exaggerating, but certainly “free shipping” has become the norm. Whether or not this is good we can debate endlessly, but if two sellers of the same thing — say shirts — both offer free shipping, and both use the same common-carrier to provide it, the effect is neutral.

But ‘Etsy’ doesn’t sell commodities, it sells hand-crafted goods. The shipping costs very widely depending on the product, the sellers are often small vendors who don’t have sufficient volume to get shipping discounts, and — most importantly — the products have specific qualities on which they can be differentiated.

If ever there’s a place that can break free from the bondage of “free shipping” this would seem to be the one … go for it!

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Etsy isn’t Amazon and indie sellers aren’t global brands. I bet sellers would appreciate having the option to select their own free-shipping threshold amount.

Etsy already takes a percentage of each sale, a fee for each item listed and a shipping charge …

I understand the flat $35 for braid-based marketing, but wonder how standardization will impact seller attrition.

Josh Clouser
Guest

This is a move by Etsy which will continue to cause disruption with their seller community as it seems counterintuitive to the site’s original ethos. This feels like a step away from indie and a step towards corporate.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Note what isn’t discussed here: Profitability. Have we forgotten that it’s the obligation of companies to care about profitability?

I don’t have clients with firsthand Etsy experience, but this seems like Etsy going out of its way to make investors happy at the expense of sellers on their site. And that’s the wrong way to look at it.

A company like Etsy can only have a strong relationship with investors by having a strong relationships with sellers. All other investor “wins” are purely short term.

The entire market needs to reset: Free shipping is not a viable solution in most cases and it creates far less economic and consumer power than companies are told.

Susan Pinckney
Guest
6 months 11 days ago
As an Etsy seller I see how it can work out well for those shops who have lightweight items to sell like paper products, jewelry, etc. since these things only cost a minimal amount to ship. Those of us who sell heavier items like pottery, furniture, and heavy sculptures will price ourselves right out of the market by having to mark up everything to cover the cost of shipping to the farthest distance. Example; If I ship priority mail to a nearby state the cost is less than $10 compared to shipping across the country where it is $25. I’ll have to raise my price by $15 more than the lowest shipping rate just in case someone from California buys one of my pieces. What bothers me even more is that I also am forced to absorb the cost of that “free shipping” if a customer chooses to return an item which means I could LOSE $25 on a single sale because restocking fees are a no-no on Etsy. Josh Silverman: Are you going to… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I am less inclined to look for free shipping on sites like Etsy because I know the items I buy are sold by indie merchants and craftsmen. "
"Etsy isn’t Amazon and indie sellers aren’t global brands. I bet sellers would appreciate having the option to select their own free-shipping threshold amount."
"A company like Etsy can only have a strong relationship with investors by having a strong relationships with sellers. All other investor “wins” are purely short term."

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