In light of Etsy’s recent announcement regarding free shipping officially being a factor recognized in search ranking, I wanted to share some thoughts. (Summary: Offering free shipping is better than not offering it as far as search goes now.) You can read the full announcement here.
This has been a hot button issue for some time and I discussed it on the podcast in season four. *Please note that with this change, some of the info in that episode may now be outdated, outside of my personal opinion.
As a reminder, shipping price has long been a factor in search. Quick summary: Etsy was encouraging free shipping but, it was REASONABLE shipping that you wanted to have at the minimum. If everyone in your niche / search group was charging $4 shipping and you were charging $10, that was not as favorable because you looked like an outlier. So having a reasonable shipping rate was always A: good business and B: something Etsy regarded well.
That being said, I am surprised by the eruption of emotion and discussion about this announcement. Etsy has been on their free shipping push for some time and it is just one of many factors that impact search results… sellers regularly disregard the other pieces of the pie, but I’ll address this more later on in this post.
My Opinion on the Response to Etsy’s Free Shipping Update
Let’s begin by addressing the reasons why this is eliciting such a big response (my opinion, of course):
For eons, like, literally since dinosaurs roamed the earth, Etsy sellers have married themselves to the idea that search is the be all, end all success metric. The thought process being: if I show well in search, I’ll make more sales. But as many of you hopefully know by now, it’s not that simple. Search is NOT the be all, end all. But because many people so believe that it is, ANY time something about search “changes” or is modified in any way, people panic.
The truth is that search – and being discovered in search – is ONE way of being found. ONE WAY. That’s all it is. It is a single way in which someone might find your shop. Search is ONE opportunity of Etsy.
There are plenty of other ways, too. People can find your listings through related items, features, favorites, and shop updates among others. Those are just Etsy specific ways. There are plenty of non Etsy specific ways too but let’s leave it there since this is about Etsy. (But most of you send some traffic to your Etsy shop and all the ways in which you do that are also ways for people to find you.)
Being Told What To Do
Many sellers feel that Etsy is telling them what to do. I get this one out of the box much more easily. In this instance people feel Etsy is “big brother”ing the operations of sellers. They aren’t because nothing is being decided for you but they have a strong influence that cannot be overlooked so it feels a bit like they are forcing your hand.
I think that’s okay. But as long as we know it’s just a feeling and not a hard fast fact that you HAVE to do anything, I think we’re good. Is it my number one favorite thing they’ve ever implemented? No. Do I think it’s a good opportunity for some sellers? Hell yes. Bottom line, this is NOT a “mandate” it is an opportunity.
It’s Not Actually Free
Even in their announcement, Etsy tells sellers that they should not foot the bill for this and to work the cost of shipping into your items. Some sellers find this to be a poor business practice that puts their transparency with buyers at risk. For me, I think most consumers are savvy enough to know that if shipping is “free” they are still paying for it somewhere along the way. It’s less of a breach of trust and more of a marketing strategy.
Etsy says that their research tells them people are more likely to purchase items that ship free. I think we can all agree that no one has ever complained about free shipping, the deterrent is not the shipping cost so much as the sneak attack.
They even cited (almost immediately in their announcement) the fact that many people will abandon carts because of surprises at check out. So it stands to reason that it’s not so much that people only want free shipping, it’s that they just want to know the cost, in full, upfront. Could Etsy find a way to show this total cost to buyers upfront? Likely, yes. Is it as cute and easy as “free shipping”? Likely, no.
Comparing to Amazon Prime
You’ve heard it said, I’m positive, that “people want Amazon Prime” experiences on Etsy etc etc. Let’s remember that Amazon Prime is a PAID subscription. Consumers PAY for the many benefits of Amazon prime, one of the most beloved benefits being that they know they will not pay ADDITIONAL shipping costs. It’s not FREE shipping. It’s shipping that’s included with your membership, you are not paying ADDITIONAL shipping fees on Prime. Another tick in the box to support the idea that people just want to KNOW upfront what they are or aren’t going to be paying.
Okay now let’s dive into the multiple other layers to this.
Including Shipping in the Cost of an Item
Including shipping in the cost of an item – what problems could arise?
Many sellers feel that in addition to being a bit “shady”, the act of including shipping costs in the item price means that if a customer purchases multiple items, they are paying more for shipping overall than necessary.
To be COMPLETELY honest, I’m okay with that. Here’s why:
Not so much that I’m okay with overcharging for shipping, but I am okay with sellers increasing their prices a little bit to accommodate free shipping because even if you are occasionally collecting more money than is needed for postage on a single order, you are ultimately offsetting some other cost.
Many sellers do not account for all of their costs properly or are under charging to begin with. So in some cases maybe you are offsetting the cost of wear and tear on your camera or phone, or in the case of doing craft fairs: the cost of wear and tear on your tent. Which leads me to my next point: I think your prices should be consistent across all selling venues and if that means you are “charging shipping” to craft fair customers, flip the script: you are off setting other costs.
Shipping to the U.S. from Abroad
Etsy says that this change impacts sellers who ship TO the USA. So if your shop is in France but you offer shipping to America, this impacts you. To be honest, I’m unsure how international sellers can best navigate this. I need more time to percolate on it. It does seem that Etsy has implied there is a tool or some other forthcoming feature that will better address this not-so-unique situation.
Possible Other Consequences of Free Shipping
Less Eco-Friendly Packaging
Again, since Etsy’s influence cannot be overstated, we should consider that many sellers will now be inclined to offer free shipping and that will precipitate them finding cheaper packaging materials. This will inevitably mean more plastic consumption and importing materials from abroad. Global warming issues to the max. It’s hard to imagine sellers offering free shipping, not raising their prices to account for it and also seeking out eco-friendly packaging options that usually cost more all at the same time. So while it’s not a front runner concern, it did cross my mind.
Using Free Shipping as a Promotion
Free shipping has long been an excellent promotion for occasional use. Now that it will become so standard, it’s likely more discounting will occur in the absence of this very-effective promotional option. (If you offer free shipping all the time, what’s your next best occasional promo? Probably a discount of some kind.) It’s also likely that sellers who have their own sites will find that the free shipping they offered there is no longer incentive enough and have to adjust or lose out on having an incentive for people to buy on their site.
What Happens with Returns/ Exchanges?
What happens in the case of seller offer free shipping, buyer wants or needs to exchange the item, and has to pay to ship it back to the seller… and then, depending on the situation the seller has to ship it back to them? Who is responsible for the shipping costs? Perhaps it will depend on the situation – was the seller at fault? Did the buyer purchase the wrong thing? Those will be important questions as they always are in the case of returns. But when you advertise free shipping, where does it end? I would encourage sellers to think on this and proactively express your expectations and process for this situation in their policies. (I was unable to find any information from Etsy regarding this being a sanctioned practice or not.)
Are Etsy buyers – or people who are making a purchase on Etsy – really the traditional internet buyer?
If the marketplace offers unique goods, that cannot be found elsewhere, isn’t it likely people would be less inclined to trifle over shipping costs? I think so. But I do understand their desire to make it so people are more likely to buy. Period.
I think many of the people who love “free shipping” elsewhere are people who are also perfectly okay with paying reasonable shipping charges on Etsy.
A Question I Have:
If the research is so clear that free shipping is what people want and even maybe EXPECT – why is there a threshold of $35? Is this to include more sellers in the mix? To be more widely appealing? I hope so because otherwise, it doesn’t really settle out too well.
Things to Keep in Mind
Search is Made Up of a Combination of Factors
Just because an item ships for free does not mean it is going to shoot to the first page of search results every time, no matter what. The item itself still has to be relevant to the shopper’s query for what it IS.
An item on page 10/250 of a search is likely JUST as relevant as the items on page one. There is only so much space per page, and the listings have to be organized somehow. Personally I think anyone showing up between pages 1-20 of a 250 page search are doing incredibly well relevancy wise.
Search is ONE Way to Appeal to Etsy’s System
The smartest sellers will appeal to ALL the opportunities of Etsy, not just search.
For those of you in the Etsy Training Course, the course will be updated shortly to reflect this change and advise on it. For those of you who aren’t, consider joining us to learn about ALL the opportunities of Etsy!
If you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear them!