'Love Don't Come For Free'- Why There's No Such Thing As Free Shipping
Sometimes I see things that just grate on me and I dust down my rant hat, stick it firmly on my head and just go for it. This is basically my way of documenting my rage in a positive, healthy way so that I can put away the hat and get on with my life without losing too many friends in between. Hey, it's cheaper than therapy right?
I feel at this point some context is needed. So you may or may not have seen that Etsy sellers have been hitting the roof these past couple of days due to an email that was sent by none other than the CEO of Etsy, Josh Silverman. In this email to sellers he addressed developments in their recent plans to push sellers to switch to 'free shipping'. Now this has been something that has been brewing for quite some time. Initially sellers were hit with new and increased fees which included the addition of a fee on shipping charges. This sent sellers into a spin not only due to the overall increase in what were already substantial costs but the additional fee and what it represented was also met with understandable anger. Shipping fees after all are unavoidable and not something that people necessarily benefit or make profit from. Etsy justified this as a way to stop sellers from charging excessive shipping and taking a cut. We submitted petitions and voiced our opinions but this still went through. We grumbled, shrugged and managed to accept it for what it was but many stores closed and set up shop on independent platforms. Since then there have been many prompts on Etsy's Seller Dashboard encouraging people to switch to 'free shipping' and even providing tools and guides to support sellers in switching. Now this grated on my patience and I didn't appreciate the constant messages and banners telling me that I hadn't 'ticked it off' my seller to do list. I managed to ignore it and assumed that would be the end of it and that ultimately it was my choice how I wanted to charge customers for delivery. Or so I thought.
Anyway back to this email. As I said sellers were emailed by the CEO to explain that once again changes were going to be made to Etsy, specifically focused around shipping. In this email Josh said that "online shoppers expect free delivery everywhere they go." He also said that "time and again buyers tell us that having to pay for an additional postage is what keeps them from shopping at Etsy." He also plucked the statistic that "Etsy shoppers are 20% more likely to complete their purchase when the item is marked as delivering for free." He also said that "our data shows that Etsy buyers will spend more to have their order delivered for free."
These are bold statements and I would personally be fascinated to see the data and report to back these statistics up, especially as I deal with such information on a daily basis. For me something just doesn't stack up. Call me cynical but I can't see this as conclusive nor do I think that these figures are significant enough to warrant rolling out what they intend to. So what are their grand plans to solve this? What did the CEO himself have to suggest to concerned sellers wanting to please their customers? He has said that "it's become common place for online sellers to include postage costs in the item price, so we're launching tools to make it easy for you to do just that." He has also said that "starting on 30th July 2019, we'll give priority placement in US search results to items that deliver for free and to shops that guarantee free delivery to US buyers on orders of $35 or more."
So not only has he acknowledged that he is encouraging sellers to hide shipping fees in the cost of each item but he is also penalising sellers who choose not to use this deceitful practice too.
If we look past the fact that hiding shipping costs within the price of the product itself is wrong there other factors to consider too. Now for some adding the cost of the shipping to their product may not be all that bad. Those who ship small and lightweight items may only have to add a couple of pounds to their product which won't necessarily be a deal breaker for customers. However, if like me sellers have delicate and sometimes large items that need to be carefully wrapped and shipped in boxes, these naturally incur larger shipping costs and these will need to be paid for by the customer. For example I send all my hoops in boxes by First Class with the Royal Mail and this is classed as a small parcel and costs at least £3.55 and that is just the UK. For overseas orders such as shipping to the US I send my hoops Tracked & Signed and again these are sent as a small parcel which usually costs £13.50. I only charge £10 which to me still seems a lot and I am certain turns many overseas customers away, even though they are saving money on shipping where I choose to pay for it. It's a small gesture that makes a big difference on both sides. But again, this is my decision.
The fact of the matter is shipping overseas is expensive and with this new stand from Etsy on visibility to the US market, those who cannot or will not change their shipping policy are losing out, not to mention the huge number of customers who will miss a large part of the market. For me it is a lose lose situation all round.
Now I could rant and rave about this all day long but I will spare you that much. For the most part I have enjoyed my experience as an Etsy seller and it is something I have discussed on a previous blog post over a year and a half ago. Sure the fees aren't the best but considering the exposure you can get and the audience you can reach that otherwise wouldn't be tapped into, it is a pretty solid platform to be on. There is the bonus of the security of a well known and established brand and the ability to be able to browse at ease and read reviews is reassuring to many customers, including myself. However the direction that Etsy are steering themselves in is concerning to me. Etsy's overall revenue last year was $604 billion which was 32.68% higher than 2017 with their annual gross profit being $413 billion last year which again was 42.27% higher than the year before. However interestingly their overall income last year declined by 5.27%. These are incredible and mind blowing numbers and as much as I understand that business is business and they need to grow and evolve, this all means nothing if their user base diminishes and their decline continues. It's all about remembering your roots, listening to your members and steering the business in the right direction for everybody. Easier said than done of course.
So what can we do? Well I called Etsy's bluff and took them up on their survey offer. Below is the open letter I sent to Etsy when they had the cheek to ask me my opinion "about the option to add a free delivery guarantee for your shop". I implore and empower you all to do the same. If you are passionate about something as a business owner or as a consumer you should shout about it from the roof tops! You can fill out their 'survey' (which is in fact just one multi-choice question and a comment box) here.
I feel that this is a misleading and deceitful option that will in fact mean that customers are paying out more in the long run.
Firstly, there is no such thing as free shipping. Period.
I am offended by the email that has been sent out to sellers that has explicitly said that any business not offering free delivery will effectively not be seen by customers. There has been continued pressure on our dashboards and through marketing campaigns to change our shipping profiles and again this has upset and frustrated me. I feel as though your current campaign on this matter is penalising those who feel as though it goes against their own personal ethics.
I am sure that there are people out there looking to make a profit from shipping and potentially charging well above what they should be. I am not naive enough to think otherwise. However rather than assuming that all sellers on Etsy are doing this and tarnishing us all with the same brush, I think you should introduce a shipping calculator to listings that allows you to submit the weight of items, size of package, destination of package, supplier used and the price that this will cost, much like the calculators used by the Royal Mail and other courier services to give you a price quote. This way sellers can select the right price and service for their item.
The formula that you have encouraged sellers to use is deceitful and I do not feel comfortable using this or promoting this method. You are asking sellers to add the cost of the shipping to the price of the item in order to be able to use 'free shipping' and cover costs. However, if a customer chooses to buy three items from a shop they are in fact paying for shipping three times over. This is unacceptable and I am appalled that you would promote and encourage this.
I appreciate that you have done some research into this and found that customers are more attracted to the option of free shipping than paying. That is a no brainer. I myself have been put off from even the biggest businesses when they charge what feels like excessive shipping. However I would be more distressed as a consumer to know that businesses were hiding the cost of shipping within the price and potentially charging me multiple times. I think the majority of customers would rather businesses were honest and saw the cost in cold hard figures.
My concerns are for both customers and sellers and I feel as though your motivation for this free shipping offer however well placed you may feel it is, is actually alienating many people. We have already felt the pinch in recent months with your fee increase which again relates to shipping. This again impacted those who were following ethical and legitimate shipping procedures. You are now implementing another shipping focused penalty that will knock sellers. You are doing this at the cost of small businesses. I was under the impression that this is what the platform was built on and set you apart from your competitors?
I have seen many well established businesses who made their start on Etsy remove themselves from the platform and invest in their own websites or move to alternative platforms as they personally feel penalised by your recent changes. This is very upsetting as there has been a real community feel on this platform, similar to what people experience on social media sites such as Instagram. People joining together, inspiring others and connecting over a common passion- craft.
I honestly feel that if you continue down this path you will lose many more people- both sellers and customers. Etsy already has an 'elite' reputation that means many who are new to handmade goods feel it is overpriced and that it is not somewhere they can purchase from. The plans you have in place will only continue this feeling and trend. I myself have doubts about my continuation of remaining an Etsy seller and customer. I feel your reputation has been tarnished by your deceitful message to sellers and your overall focus shifting from what is truly important."
If you made it to the end. I salute you.