April 23 2003
|Free Shipping, a new eCommerce Trend?||
Since a year, and mostly while holidays season, free shipping offers bloomed again on eRetail sites's homepages.
Among them, Amazon.com has brought back free shipping in January 2002 for orders of more than $99. In June the minimum was set to $49 and lowered to $25 in August.
Some other sites have followed Amazon.com such as Buy.com and of course its rival, Barnes and Noble. B&N did not fixed a minimum amount of order price to offer free shipping but instead offers it as soon as you order a minimum of two items to be sent at the same address. An other way of fixing a minimum order.
I think that we must take here into account the usability's specificities of the Amazon.com Web site to get the good answer. I imagine your reaction: What link can exist between the usability of Amazon.com and free shipping?
As you know, we are eShopability experts, a discipline that merge two specific expertises, Web usability and eMarketing. eShopability main aim is the increase of browser to buyer conversion rate but also the growth of the average shopping basket.
Amazon's case is a true classic example for eShopability. The usability expert when facing a site as Amazon is generally delighted: A very efficient search engine plus the one click ordering. The usability expert will give the site a 10/10 for this.
But the eShopability expert is not as delighted by these two features.
The good quality of the search engine, combined with the "one click ordering" feature certainly helps the site to have a good browser to buyer conversion rate but means also a low shopping basket level.
Indeed, Amazon's search engine is so efficient that most of its visitors do not browse anymore the web site's pages and type directly the title of the book or CD on the homepage. The search is often positive then, if this visitor has already bought on the site, he can buy with a click and leave the site after spending... 10 or 15 dollars when the site was expecting $50 or $100...
In fact, it is more to counter a too efficient usability, not enough aimed on eShopability's criteria, that Amazon has launched its free shopping offers with... a minimum order amount. And, on the paper, this is a good idea. On the paper only as this has also a cost and it is sure that correcting the bad eShopability of the site would have been much less expensive!
Spiteful gossip thinks also that at the beginnings of e-Commerce, some consumers were proud to say to their friends that they were buying their books or CDs on Internet, they were "trendy". Today this surfing wave has landed, it is... common to buy on Internet. So, some experts think that the fact that Internet is now part of every-day life is a phenomenon that hits roughly many Web sites as Amazon whilst more consumers prefer from now go to the bookshop at the corner of the street to have the pleasure of touching, flipping through but also spending a pleasant time, a little outing that the Web cannot offer them.
Consequently, these free shipping offers would bloom only to incite future deserters to carry on buying online...
Some other sites, as LL Bean, are offering free shipping if you pay your order with the LL Bean's Visa Card. This is very near the special offers of big retailers... valid only if you pay with the shop's payment card.
As you see, between eShopability problems and this every-day life trend, more worrying, of desertion from eCommerce Web sites, it is quite difficult to give an efficient advice, each sector needing a different eMarketing approach.
Free shipping would be then only a marketing tool, a very special incentive, which would lead far from the simple fact to avoid an online consumer to pay an over-cost by comparison with an offline buy, as it was in the beginnings of eCommerce.
This "free shipping" that some see as a new eCommerce "trend" would be then only a way to increase the size of the shipping basket for some, or a way to retain online customers ready to buy again some products offline.
We are far from the big "trend" announced by some eCommerce experts.