Free Shipping: Got It? 10 Ways to Flaunt It

With 60% of online shoppers cite free shipping as a reason they are more likely to shop on the web (Harris Interactive, July 2008), if you use free shipping as a marketing vehicle, you want to make sure you communicate your offer at every touch point.

In the current issue of eM+C magazine, you’ll find my article Get Your Site Into Shipping Shape This Season with ideas on how “get the most mileage” out of your free shipping offer from search engine to shopping cart (this version includes screen shots):

1. Meta Tags and Descriptions

Famous for its Free Shipping Both Ways & 365-Day Return Policy, Zappos used to include its value proposition in its title tag and meta description tags. As I blogged about back in August), this can help achieve higher click through on your listing than search results above you.

As I mentioned in the blog post, people do search for “keyword + free shipping” in search engines, and including your offer in your title tag is crucial to optimize for these searches.

Interestingly, since August Zappos has changed its tactic to simply “Free Shipping.”

Before I say this is a bad idea, the simpler message may be easier on the eyes and there may be a good reason for the switch (like testing, for instance). Unfortunately, Google doesn’t hand over click-through data for organic search like it does with…

2. Search Ads

It’s a bit easier to test click-through rate for shipping offers in search ad headlines and body copy, since Google reports impressions and clicks for each ad you test:

Since most people scan headlines first, don’t you think “Auto Parts Free Shipping” would stand out?

Judging how long it took me to find an example of a retailer bidding on “keyword + free shipping” – it tells me this is a valuable keyword many aren’t taking advantage of.

3. E-mail Marketing

Test free-shipping calls to action in e-mail subject lines, but always repeat the offer in your e-mail creative and landing page. Examples from this summer include eBags’ “Pain at the Pump? Stay Put. We’ll ship it to you for Free” and Macy’s “Gas prices got you down? This week clearance items ship for only 99¢.

4. Data Feeds

Take advantage of optional promo fields. Many comparison-shopping engines like Shopping.com and PriceGrabber allow you to flaunt your special offers through these fields. Other comparison engines allow shoppers to select the term “free shipping” from a menu of predetermined promotions, or include a Free Shipping section – like Yahoo Shopping. Your listing may even include a “Free Shipping” icon or appear higher in results when users sort by total cost (inclusive of shipping), depending on the engine.

5. Affiliate Promotions

If you’re offering free shipping for a limited time only, make sure your affiliates are notified in advance, and that all coupon codes work before you post them or send them out.

6. Offline Advertising

Mention your free shipping offer in radio ads, direct mail, in-store signage, on sales receipts and any other offline ads. Don’t forget to state your restrictions clearly.

7. Homepage

Devote significant homepage real estate to the free-shipping offer, including delivery date cutoff times as the holidays draw nearer, in addition to banners at the top of each individual Web page.

8. Category Pages

Endless.com shows “Free Overnight Shipping” below each product thumbnail and price on its category pages, communicating the value proposition to visitors who land on the category page through search and ignore the call-out at the top banner (banner blindness), and reinforcing it for customers already exposed to the offer.

9. Product Pages

Mentioning a product’s free shipping eligibility on the product page (near the price or “add to cart” button) also is useful, for the same reasons as noted above.

10. Shopping Cart

If you offer free shipping above a threshold, use a “carrot” that reminds customers “You’re only $X away from free shipping!” and a “continue shopping” link. Most online retailers who offer free shipping above a certain cart total don’t do this.


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31 Responses to “Free Shipping: Got It? 10 Ways to Flaunt It”

  1. We’re currently running at test on our site using Google’s conversion optimiser, putting “Free Delivery” in various different sizes next to the buy button below our flowers. We have the message high and bright top right of our homepage, plus it’s in the flash banner top of the HP but we figured reiterating that message right next to the price and the buy button might give that extra impetus to click, for both those who had already seen the free delivery message elsewhere and for those who had missed it thus far. Early results are very encouraging and seems that the idea is definitely a keeper…

    We’ll roll out the winning version fairly soon.

  2. PS great post by the way. A great list of easy ways to improve conversion. People often spend too much time on trying to generate traffic and not enough time thinking about how to convert it effectively.

  3. Great post Linda, free shipping is a great selling point and should absolutely be communicated effectively as you have pointed out. One of the places I see it missing most is on the shopping cart page itself. Many merchants realize the importance in communicating this throughout the site, but many times fall short on that message during one of the most critical steps in the buying process. We love the add $x.xx more to the cart for free shipping message in the cart, it reinforces the selling point at the same time as encouraging additional sales.

  4. My question is about Data Feeds.

    Right now I am submitting a feed to Google, are there any other FREE places worth sending Data Feeds, too?

    Also are there any companies out there, able to help setup feeds for Amazon.com?

    Let me know……….thanks.

  5. @Audio – not sure if this is really on topic – but eCopt has an excellent resource here that should help you.

  6. Audio Bible:
    I manage datafeeds for several merchants and there are few more sites that accept datafeeds for free or for commission on referred sales. I support all marketplaces including Amazon, Shop, Buy and others. Please feel free to contact me if you need more information.

  7. Adam says:

    Regarding point #10, having a “You’re only $X away from free shipping!” notice on the shopping cart page.

    When I added this feature to my site, someone suggested that it was NOT a good idea as it pulls the visitor *out* of the sales cycle, rather than encouraging them to proceed to checkout.

    So, I setup a split test with A) operating just like this and B) not showing anything on the shopping cart, but when the user clicked the ‘Continue Shopping’ button OR any other navigation (category, product link, etc.) a nice bold red message with a thin 1px border appeared notifying them that, “You only need to add $x.xx to your cart for free shipping!”

    Since they left the cart, they were still in shopping mode, but this was further encouragement to get the back into the checkout process–of course, after adding a little more to their cart.

    In my testing B, won out *and* increased AOV.

  8. Great article mate. Ive a few clients who are going to be making changes based on your recommendations. :)

    Keep up the good work.

  9. Lin says:

    Audio Bible,
    TheFind is a free shopping site and Microsoft’s Cashback has a cost-per-sale engine.
    You can also check out GoDataFeed.com to help you manage your data feed submissions.

  10. @Adam,

    Thank you for sharing your results of your test – that’s a good point that drawing the customer out of the sales funnel to continue shopping might increase ultimate cart abandonment. Same with showing cross-sells in the cart.

    It would be interesting to see what the uptick is when you show the “carrot” on the cart page when customer is within $10 of the threshold, combined with very relevant cross-sells.

    Anyone tested that? :)

  11. Hi Linda, excellent post.

    I referenced your post and had a look at how some big UK retailers are promoting their free delivery offers on the E-consultancy blog today.

    While a few are promoting these offers on homepages and product pages, I found very few examples of using title tags, email subject lines and search ads to flaunt free shipping.

  12. [...] follows up on this week’s Free Shipping: If You Got It How to Flaunt It with some UK examples. (Did you know Amazon lowered its free shipping threshold to [...]

  13. Great post, lots of good content.

    Thanks for the info =)

  14. [...] Amazon has recently dropped its minimum order needed to get free shipping by two thirds. Similarly, Linda Bustos’ article on flaunting free shipping, from which Leggatt gets some of her talking points, notes that Zappos really pushes their free [...]

  15. [...] Make the most of your free shipping offers this Holiday season while you can — UPS announced a general rate increase of 5.9% The new rates will take effect on Jan. 5, 2009. [...]

  16. Hi Linda

    Really enjoyed this post and have referenced back from a related article I wrote for Bizreport. Also interesting to note Matt Thomson at Ignite’s comments, too, on both our articles at http://www.igniteanalytics.com/blog/2008/10/20/retail-marketing-strategy-should-rely-more-on-personalization-less-on-free-shipping/ which has some interesting points regarding business size vs free shipping.

  17. @Helen,

    Thanks! Yes I agree with Matt Thomson on the scale issue, it does make it more difficult for smaller retailers to absorb the extra costs for shipping, especially when you don’t have retail stores either, where you can leverage ship-to-store and return-to-store.

    Who knows, next year’s UPS rate increase could bring even the big players to reduce their free shipping offers.

  18. i think this is a great post

  19. Summer says:

    In order to compete we were forced to offer free shipping and raise our prices. Seems to work though!

  20. great post.thanks a lot.

  21. Beth says:

    It’s a great option to attract traffic on your website. One can even convert the visitor into customer.

  22. Melissa says:

    Excellent post! Free shipping certainly has an innate ability to increase sales and boost AOV. And frankly, online shoppers have come to expect it.

    But there’s an affordable alternative for smaller retailers who simply can’t absorb shipping costs: Offering a free product or gift card from another company or advertiser as an incentive. The perceived value of the incentive will be high enough to increase conversions and boost AOV–But it will cost far less than the price of shipping and handling.

    Here’s an article I wrote about it:
    http://blog.trialpay.com/2009/03/05/when-free-shipping-doesn%E2%80%99t-deliver-give-away-another-company%E2%80%99s-product-instead/

  23. Bernard says:

    Hi and thank you for the excellent article. I have 2 separate points I’d like to contribute and hopefully get some feedback on from the community:

    1. In “Way” #8 above, a jacket with price $38.95 has free OVERNIGHT shipping. How is that even possible? If their pricing is on a “typical” retail keystone structure, their cost is approx $19.48, leaving $19.48 gross profit. Even if they used a USPS flat rate priority mail envelope, postage purchased direct, it would cost them $4.80 with online pricing. That’s a 25% reduction in gross profit. And THAT’S USING PRIORITY MAIL! Their offer is for FREE OVERNIGHT. That has got to cost more than $4.80.

    What am I missing? Is there a magical source of super cheap shipping options that I just haven’t come across? :-D Or do all of these Free Shippers have cost of goods sold structures under 25% of sales price?

    2. The other issue is returns. In the case of a return, it’s common to credit the purchase price but not the shipping fee or return shipping fee. (I have to exclude Zappos from any discussion because I have no idea how, from the very start, they had the shipping charges/return policies that they had.) If you offer free shipping, and you have to take a return, you are absorbing the entire cost – the cost of the product return as well as the cost of shipping the item out in the first place. Even if you raise the product price to cover the “free” shipping, it’s one thing to cover that cost and have it absorbed by the customer’s payment to you. But if that item is returned, you have paid for the original outbound shipping and no longer have the payment from the customer to cover it. You are now negative.

    Does anyone have any insight as to how to deal with either of these issues? Free shipping is a huge motivator but these 2 issues specifically have blocked our ability to do anything with it.

  24. @Bernard,

    It would be great for some of our retail community to jump in here and share their experiences. But the older a post is, the less likely folks will notice new comments.

    So I’ll jump in for the interim.

    Free overnight shipping in #8 is from Endless.com – that’s an Amazon company. They can leverage their existing, uber-efficient fulfillment operations (that they even offer to retailers with their Fulfillment by Amazon program) so they have that strategic advantage. I agree this is cost prohibitive for many retailers.

    The main idea of #8 is to mention your shipping offer in category listings on products that apply, whether it’s free, flat rate or *gasp* free overnight.

    About question 2, there are ways to minimize your costs including return-to-nearest-store (if possible) and free return, store credit only. That way you keep the money up front, eat the cost of the return and in the future you take a hit on margin for the replacement item, or the customer may not redeem the credit.

    If you’re a retailer that actually does make money on shipping, you *can* still be profitable if you keep your return rate low with detailed product information, reviews highlighting product strengths AND weaknesses. Retailers also cite lower return rate with multiple product images and video.

    In Zappos’ case, it used its free shipping policies as a marketing/word of mouth campaign to become the customer favorite. So it saved a lot of money in marketing costs although I’m sure they have some deals with UPS also.

  25. [...] really care about free shipping, and even search for it in search engines. And if you offer it, you should flaunt it when customers do searches for the products you carry — in your title tags and meta [...]

  26. [...] Free Shipping: Got It? 10 Ways to Flaunt It « Get Elastic Ecommerce Blog Posted on September 1, 2010 by summittile http://www.getelastic.com/promote-free-shipping/ [...]

  27. Great post! You’ve definitely nailed it.. Everything depends on how you market your Free Shipping service, and the $X to free shipping is a definite boost to sales. We also offer free shipping at ModeFlowers.com and will definitely use your tips to flaunt it!

  28. From about 10 years of eCommerce experience, I can say without doubt that “free shipping” is the most important benefit that you can offer. Thank you for the article.

  29. Great article.

    For anyone with mainly UK customers, “Free Delivery” is almost certainly a better phrase to use…

    (Sorry if this has been mentioned by someone else already)..

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