As an Etsy seller we are fortunate to be able to make decisions based on what is best for our shop. That said, when Etsy gives us a blatant clue about how to become more visible in search, like they did in the September 2018 Etsy SEO update, it pays to at least think about how we can use this this to our advantage.
BUT… let's do this thoughtfully and not just make hasty decisions based on partial facts!
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Etsy Free Shipping July 2019 Update
So… that message from Josh Silverman, Etsy CEO…
Starting on July 30, 2019, we’ll give priority placement in US search results to items that ship free and to shops that guarantee free shipping to US buyers on orders of $35 or more. This means that shoppers in the US will primarily see items that ship free and shops that guarantee free shipping on orders of $35 or more in the top and most visible rows of search. We’ll also begin to prioritize these items wherever Etsy advertises in the US—in email marketing, social media, and television ads.Josh Silverman, Etsy CEO… July 9, 2019
I have had a LOT of questions about whether that means you HAVE to offer free shipping to be competitive in SEO search and other built in Etsy marketing efforts.
I have some thoughts…
- I do promoted listings which does get me into the top rows of Etsy search.
- My one of kind items are valuable on their own. If you sell a commodity item and all your competitors offer free shipping you will have to offer free shipping too.
- Don't forget it is on items over $35…. if your item is even close to that price, it would behoove you to price it at $34.99 instead of $35.
- I will be keeping my eye on my competitors (more about this in a wee minute).
Marmalead for checking Etsy shipping costs…
You may know how much I love the search tool Marmalead. One of the cool things they show is whether other sellers are or are not covering the cost of shipping in their products.
Here is the info for “gold necklaces”… they ARE offering free shipping and covering the cost in their listings!
Those are a commodity product with 1,057,032 Results in search.
I sell one of kind items like antique wind up toy bears. This is a super specific item that collectors or someone looking to decorate a very specific room are looking for. There are 2,474 Results for this search.
According to this, other sellers seem to be offering some free shipping options but not covering them in the prices listed.
Additionally, only one of the 11 top antique bear listings has free shipping.
This leads me to believe for now at least I would be okay to not offer free shipping since my competitors are not offering it!
You can do this kind of research for your own products! If you want to check it out on Marmalead, you can get a free trial using this link (I will get a small commission for referring you too!)
Etsy Free Shipping June 2019 Update
Before we dive into the pros and cons of offering free shipping, I wanted to talk a little bit about changes that the USPS (United States Postal Service) is making.
Early in January 2019 they raised the prices on postage and made first class zone-able… meaning you pay more for first class packages (under 1 pound) the further you have to ship them! Doh, that hurt since many of my packages go from Florida to California or Idaho (I am huge in Idaho for some reason!)
And now in June of 2019 they are upping the dimensional shipping prices on Priority Mail (it will cost more to ship larger or heavier items further away).
The first change I was able to “eat” and still do free shipping for my Etsy shop, but this one tipped me over since I ship a LOT of heavy materials a long distance.
I had been using a free shipping coupon since the October update, but last night I went through and added Etsy Calculated Shipping back to all my listings.
I still think that having free shipping as an option is a great idea, especially if you build the cost into your product price, but as a vintage seller, this last change priced me out of the market.
October 2018 Update…
Here is exactly what Etsy said about free shipping…
Etsy search factors shipping price into search ranking to make it easier for shoppers to find listings with competitive shipping prices. Listings with lower shipping prices are more likely to rank higher in search. Offering free shipping could improve your search ranking even more and shoppers will also see a free shipping badge on the listing in search results.
They did not say that if you won't offer free shipping you will not be found in search, AND they didn't say you have to offer completely free shipping to take advantage of this, they functionally recommended considering splitting the difference with the buyer.
With Etsy's big push this year, they have set up your login dashboard to encourage us to offer free shipping. I clicked the button in the shop dashboard…
It made a global free shipping coupon that was applied to every item in my store…
I hadn't noticed it because in my shop manager items still showed without the free shipping button checked in my listings back end so I wasn't aware of it until I sold a picture frame that did not have free shipping in my shop manager, but did have a “free shipping coupon” applied.
Upgraded Shipping Services with Free Shipping
One thing I had worried about was how to handle Priority or Priority Express orders, especially with the holiday season coming up and those last minute shoppers. Well, it is super easy, if you have calculated shipping. Etsy simply adds the additional shipping cost as a dropdown for the customer to choose.
(I am not sure at this time if it works on fixed price shipping that has the free shipping coupon added)
Now back to considerations about whether you should add free shipping in the first place…
How Much Does Your Product Weigh?
First Class Shipping – Under One Pound Products
With shipping, one of the main determinations of cost is the weight of your product. Because there is flat rate domestic shipping within the United States, you can know for sure your cost to ship an item that weighs under a pound (it is between about $2.66 and about $4.94 depending on how many ounces it weighs)
Here is a rate chart for commercial pricing of first class mail from the USPS.
Light & Inexpensive
So let's say you sell something that weighs 3 ounces. You could simply up the price by $2.66 and be totally even, right? But what if you sell something light AND inexpensive like a small pendant charm.
If you were to charge a middle of the road price in this search, say $2.50 and then add $2.66 to that for “free shipping”, you could price yourself out of the market fast.
What you could do in this case is offer free shipping on quantities over a certain amount that would make sense for a profit. Because the cost of the shipping will only be effected slightly by each additional piece, the overall cost of providing free shipping would be reduced at larger quantities!
Light & Expensive
But what if you were selling something light and expensive? Say like a gold wedding ring…
As you can see, even adding around $6 to ship these out in a Priority mail flat rate small box there wold not be as much of a hit to the pricing (and all of these sellers ARE offering free shipping so it makes it an almost necessity).
Note: For something of this cost you would want to have insurance on it. By the time you add the cost to ship first class PLUS the add on insurance it would be worth it to go a Small Flat Rate Box or another box in a Padded Flat Rate Envelope.
International Free Shipping On Small Light Items
If you choose you can offer free International shipping also (that would be a tough one unless MOST of your products ship overseas and you base your “built in” free shipping to that higher number … more about this later!)
Reduced Shipping For International
That said, this seems like a place where you could “split the difference” with your buyers. Here is a way to do that by estimating the cost to ship and then making it comparable to a “reasonable” or over lower cost shipping fee.
For this you would pick Fixed Cost Shipping, make your US shipping free and then reduce your shipping costs below their actual price for your International customers.
This would accomplish the recommended idea from Etsy that, “Listings with lower shipping prices are more likely to rank higher in search.”
Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes
The next thing that we can talk about intelligently paired with free shipping is if you make products that fit easily into Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes. In this case you could easily estimate the fixed cost to ship and then determine if you want to add completely free shipping or if you want to offer reduced shipping.
For this you would simply raise the price of your products the correct amount to cover the flat rate cost in the US.
Flat Rate Boxes Example…
Say you sell a product that will fit into a Medium Flat Rate Box, right now that costs $12.85 to ship in the US. So if “normal” price for the product is $45, you would add the $12.85 and increase it to $57.85. You could even price it at $55 and eat a little bit of the cost of shipping so your price doesn't look weird.
So let's say we are adding $10 to the cost of each item to cover “free shipping”.
International Flat Rate
So now we have to find out what the cost is to ship flat rate international. In this case we are looking at a medium flat rate box, which costs $45.35.
BUT we still have to remember that we are adding $10 to the price to cover US shipping so we can reduce that cost by $10, making it $35.35 we would charge for shipping overseas, which I would round down to $35 to look more normal.
Heavy Odd Shaped Items
Okay, now we are to the kinds of items I sell in my vintage Etsy shop! I sell all kinds of different weight items, some of them that are SUPER heavy and many of which do not fit into a flat rate box.
Another kind of seller that comes to mind when I think of heavy, odd shaped items are wood pallet sign makers. Their products are really heavy and often oddly shaped.
Okay, as we can see MOST of them don't offer free shipping and are priced in the $40-80 range. The one that does offer free shipping is $99, which obviously includes the increased cost of shipping.
Sooooo…. if I was selling something heavy that has a lot of competition I would check and see what the majority of the sellers are doing and match that!
If everyone is offering free shipping and prices are high across the board, then you can offer it and raise your price.
BUT if no one else is offering free shipping and your cost just seems to be 20-30% higher than everyone else, you may lose sales because you see out of line with what is “reasonable”.
There is no fixed answer for this question, we just have to look at what is happening in our niche and see which is going to work the best for our business.
Free Shipping FAQ
Okay, I have heard A LOT of questions about free shipping since Etsy made their pronouncement and I thought I would address some of them. PLEASE know that these are my thoughts and you should do what is best for your shop!
Why Do You Want To Do Free Shipping In The First Place?
This is a question fraught with controversy and depends a lot on your world view.
- Some people will only buy things that offer free shipping (my mother in law)
- Amazon has taught people that they should get free shipping
- Etsy has explicitly said that they are going to favor free or reduced pricing in searches
- Etsy has a box that buyers can check to see ONLY products with free shipping
What Are The Drawbacks To Offering Free Etsy Shipping?
I feel like there are some true drawbacks that should be considered when offering free shipping.
- Free shipping is not free. If you are pricing your products fairly in the first price, you will have to increase prices to make your “free shipping” feasible.
- When the post office raises prices you will have to raise your prices manually.
- There is no clear “cost” to cite if the buyer requests to return the item.
How Do You Handle It If You Offer Free Shipping But They Want It Delivered Faster By Priority Mail?
As I am not an expert in this kind of shipping, I will let Kara Buntin of A Cake To Remember answer! (Facebook video)
They let you do that with a shipping profile. You can set it for free domestic shipping with a priority upgrade for the full cost of whatever it would cost to ship the farthest away from you. So I would use the furthest state away for that cost. You can set up international shipping with a cost to it too, it doesn't have to be all free everywhere.
Problems With Offering Free International Shipping
I don't know about you, but I have messed up either the size of a box or the weight on an item and gotten BURNED on the cost to ship something internationally!
Choosing free international shipping just increases the odds that you will someday have a big “oopsie” and wind up not making any money or even owing money on your transaction.
Free Domestic Shipping Versus Free International Shipping
When offering free shipping both domestically and internationally you are selecting Fixed Cost shipping. That said, you CAN offer free US shipping and do calculated shipping for International (what I would recommend for sure!)
In this case you would select Calculated Shipping and then check the box for “Free domestic shipping” and let Etsy calculate the overseas shipping cost. The problem with this is that your “free” domestic shipping is already built into the price of the product so you may be priced too high for international buyers to be interested.
What About Mailing It With A Stamp For Light Items?
Another conundrum is for Etsy sellers who sell something super light AND super cheap like stickers. These gals often ask if they should just use an envelope and a stamp instead of using the Etsy shipping labels.
In that case I would FOR SURE use free shipping as a way to make Etsy happy about free shipping in search.
Here is a Reddit post that talks about it much more intelligently than I can!
Now, I don't recommend this personally since you don't have tracking BUT your shop, your shipping. Do what makes the most sense to you!
Why Do Sellers Have To Pay Fees On Shipping Costs If They Don't Offer Free?
Here is the “official” Etsy answer on this… “It’s common in ecommerce to apply the transaction fees to shipping costs. It promotes fairness and transparency in the marketplace by removing the incentive for a seller to “hide” part of their pricing with a low price and high shipping costs.”
What that means… if they don't charge fees on shipping then you could look amazing in search by offering a product for $1 and then add a $35 shipping charge. Sneaky people in the past have done this and messed it up for everyone.
If you have any questions please feel free to email me email@example.com
- I have a super cool Etsy shipping course on Skillshare that could help you get started with your Etsy Shipping!
- Check out my Etsy Marketing videos on Youtube
- Ultimate Guide To Etsy Shipping
- Etsy Shipping Tips – How To Reduce Your Shipping Costs