Free Shipping Becoming the Expected Norm

Consumers are willing to spend more on products to avoid delivery charges
A package on a doorstep

The ability to get free shipping on all purchases has long been one of the primary selling points for paying for Amazon Prime. However, new research suggests many consumers are beginning to expect free product delivery for all their online shopping needs and unwilling to shop with retailers that don’t offer it.

If you’re one of the estimated 100-plus million Amazon Prime members in the United States, you’ve likely taken advantage of the two-day free delivery that comes with the service. Other retailers have joined the free-shipping bandwagon in recent years, ranging from discount stores, such as Walmart, to high-end retailers like Nordstrom.

But how important is free shipping to the average consumer? E-commerce platform provider BigCommerce set out to find out by surveying nearly 3,000 online consumers and 800 internet merchants across the world to gauge shoppers’ perceptions about shipping and whether it influences their shopping decisions.

BigCommerce learned that a retailer’s shipping policies have an overwhelming effect on potential sales. Not only have most respondents — 84% — purchased an item in the last 12 months specifically because the retailer offered free shipping, but half of those surveyed said they refrain from shopping with retailers that don’t offer the option.

In general, online shoppers are very influenced by the shipping experience. The survey found some shoppers to be so turned off by a lack of shipping options that they were willing to abandon an online purchase midstream.

In fact, 77% of respondents said they’d changed their mind about making a purchase they’d instigated because the shipping options were unsatisfactory. Likewise, 58% said they stopped frequenting a particular retailer because the shipping experience was a negative one.

Shoppers adding more items to cart to qualify for free shipping

The survey also suggests that consumers’ reluctance to pay for shipping may be more of a mental block than a true financial concern since many respondents said they were willing to spend more on purchases in order to avoid paying for shipping. The survey revealed that 13% of all retailers offer free shipping on all purchases, but 39% only offer it when consumers spend a minimum dollar amount on the site. In order to meet the minimum threshold and qualify for free shipping, 84% of online shoppers have added additional items to their shopping cart.

Younger consumers were particularly willing to do this, with nearly 90% of millennials and 85% of Gen Z consumers admitting they had purchased additional items simply to avoid paying shipping fees. Approximately 33% of millennials say they add items to their carts “all the time” to avoid shipping charges.

Before making a purchase with any retailer, it’s a good idea to weigh all the costs to make sure you are getting the best deal. While free shipping may sound like a bargain, you may end up spending more money than you intended to spend in the long run if you have to purchase additional items in order to qualify for it.

Also, keep in mind that there are other ways to save money besides free shipping when shopping online. For example, some credit cards offer cash back and other rewards for shopping with certain online retailers.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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