Home > Uncategorized > How can online retailers offer free shipping?

How can online retailers offer free shipping?

A question we get a lot from clients is “How can so many online retailers offer free shipping?“, which is then followed up with “What can we do to compete with free shipping offers?

There are a couple of reasons online retailers are able to offer free or cheap shipping, unfortunately the reality is that there are no free shipping service options with Fed Ex or UPS or the Post Office or anyone else. So whether you are a large shipper, ecommerce startup, or growing online retailer there is no such thing as free shipping.

What large companies do get, that startups and small companies typically do not, are substantial discounts on small package company’s published rates. In addition, if a company is shipping a very large amount of the same size packages there is often the chance to get preferential rates in those circumstances.

Clearly if you are a startup or small online retailer you are at a significant disadvantage because you are without the leverage to negotiate better rates with FedEx or UPS. But in the end, just like your business, the big online retailers are covering the cost of shipping with the margins in their products.

What to do about it as a startup or small online retailer? Obviously it is paramount to figure out ways to minimize shipping expenses because these are costs that are not going away no matter how big you get.

Consider alternatives to FedEx or UPS by looking at the options offered by the USPS. Many companies find that Flat Rate Priority Mail boxes are a good way to reduce costs. FedEx and UPS charge hefty residential, extended delivery area and fuel surcharges that hurt the economics of shipping Business to Consumer (B2C) with them.

More distance equals more cost so your shipping location is directly correlated to your shipping costs. Most of the people in the US are located in the mid-atlantic and northeast part of the country. If you are shipping from San Francisco to customers in New York, the cost could be double or more than the cost to ship to New York from a location in Pennsylvania. Another advantage the big guys have is the ability (as in volume) to ship from multiple points within the US. They can service most of the country with cheaper ZONE 2 or 3 shipments, as opposed to expensive ZONE 8 shipments going coast to coast by having multiple warehouse locations to ship from. Similar story, but it does take volume to make it worthwhile to set up multiple shipping points around the country.

Many 3rd party order fulfillment warehouses will pass on their volume discounts with FedEx and UPS, so look into a partnership to outsource your product shipping. Your operation will potentially benefit from the collective volume of all the customers shipping from that fulfillment center.


Ken Kowal is the Director of New Business Development for 3rd party fulfillment warehouse Landis Logistics and ecommerce order fulfillment service FillShip.com. Follow Landis on Twitter @landislogistics. If you would like to talk about way we can help save your online retail business on shipping costs get in touch at kkowal@landislogistics.com.

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