Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Shipping is Not Free

I recently received an email from a potential customer stating that the reason she did not order from my website was because of the "high shipping charges."  With the proliferation of "Free Shipping" offers on the web today, I can understand why this person might come away with the perception that the shipping we do charge is high.  However, I can assure you that Couture Allure does not make a profit on shipping.  In fact, the opposite is often true.  Let's take a look at it, shall we?

At Couture Allure, we pride ourselves on our careful and thoughtful packaging.  We don't crush your vintage dress into a Flat Rate envelope.  We don't throw your vintage coat into a used grocery bag.  We don't send your vintage beaded evening gown in a Tyvek envelope so it can get crushed and smashed as it makes its way to you.  Each item we sell is carefully folded with tissue paper to cushion it.  The item is then wrapped in more tissue and placed in a brand new, clean plastic bag with a printed packing slip.  We then pack most items in boxes.  The only items we ship in envelopes are non-beaded dresses going to international destinations.

At Couture Allure, we use the US Postal Service exclusively, since their prices remain far lower than those of UPS or FedEx.  99% of our domestic packages are shipped via Priority Mail so they reach you within 2-3 days.  For the past several years, the USPS has increased shipping costs annually.  We have only increased our shipping costs once in the past 5 years, and that decision was not made lightly.  All other postal increases were absorbed by us.

Here's an example based upon an average shipment weighing 1-2 pounds with insurance for $150 shipping halfway across the country from Boston to Kansas.  According to the USPS website, the shipping cost for that average package via Priority Mail is $8.75 with insurance costing another $2.90.  That's $11.65 in postage.  Couture Allure charges $11.00 for that shipment, which means we absorb $0.65 of that cost.

Of course, postage is not the only cost that goes into shipping that item to you.  Consider the costs of tissue paper, new plastic bags, packing tape, paper for those packing slips, blank shipping labels, printer ink for the packing slips and shipping labels,  bubble wrap and packing peanuts for items that need them, boxes and envelopes for international shipments, and the percentage that PayPal or the credit card companies take from the payment you send us.  Those items add up to another $0.55 to $0.75 per shipment.

Is Couture Allure making money off of shipping costs?  No, we certainly are not.  And those companies that do offer free shipping?  Be assured that they are hiding the shipping costs by raising the price of the item you purchase, using a slower method of shipping, producing the item you buy from lower quality materials, or lowering their overhead in other areas to compensate, usually by laying off workers and having their goods produced overseas. Here's an interesting look at the free shipping question from MintLife.  Here's another look at the actual cost of free shipping from Fair Indigo, a maker of fair trade garments.  Finally, here's an article about not so free shipping from MSNBC.


Sunshine said...

ThanK you so much for addressing this issue! I am always asked to just cram a vintage garment into an envelope and send it off for $5.15. If a customer insists I do it, but end up hating myself for ruining a vintage garment.
But can we talk about how USPS can't track international packages?

Betty said...

Don't get me started on shipping costs! I send all my packages insured and so they can be tracked, as if I didn't and that item went missing in the post (which they often can do) I can get no kind of compensation at all. I also charge a flat rate but because of the weight and insuring it ect it far exceeds what I charge my customers so it eats into my already small profit margin. I regularly curse the UK Post Office ;-) so you are not alone! xx

Holly said...

Amen, Jody. I will not lower my own standards for packaging to appease someone who's cheap and isn't comfortable with the actual cost of shipping and the importance of doing it "right." I've gotten many packages from dealers in the past and been astonished by the slipshod packing. (i.e. shoes *just the shoes* in a Tyvek envelope.) How about my friend who got a Bonnie Cashin handbag wrapped in a hospital gown and stuffed in a box? Nice, huh? A hospital gown.

One thing I do to give the buyer a break is to refund overages when things are being mailed to destinations that are in close proximity to Chicago. Often times, that's a just buck or two, but more often than not, I end up absorbing shipping costs when insured merchandise flies off to the West Coast.

Stay the course.

MC said...

I'm glad you addressed this, too. As anyone who has ever shipped a Christmas gift to someone can attest, shipping isn't cheap! Nor are packing materials. Your shipping costs aren't at all unreasonable, especially given the care you take to make sure items we buy arrive quickly and in the same condition as when you shipped them. If you're paying $150-200 for a dress, why skimp on shipping and receive something that's damaged? The $10 you saved won't be much of a savings if that happens.

Plus, several times you've added an extra little something to the packages I've received, like a vintage pin, just to say thank you! It's a lovely touch. I'm happy to pay for that kind of quality, personal service.

And you're quite right -- places that offer free shipping are making it up someplace else. There's no free lunch!


Delight said...


Lorraine said...

I'm a vintage buyer and a low-volume seller, too. I agree with the points about making sure an item is safe and secure… crushable things always deserve boxes and padding. However, I prefer to ship and receive in the lightest packaging that's safe for the item. Tyvek envelopes are tougher than a typical cardboard box. For a soft garment without embellishments, I'd rather keep shipping costs low, and my buyers seem to prefer that as well. I do offer a box option for an additional $2 (to cover packaging and extra postage weight), but no one in 7 years has requested it. As far as new packaging, I'd much rather see packaging reused as long as it's clean, for environmental reasons. I've never had a shipping complaint.

Sellers who point out PayPal fees or worse, charge for them, do not understand the cost of doing business. Want your payment quickly and securely? That's the price you pay for a very handy service, without which you would lose a lot of sales.

These kinds of rants from online sellers are common, and they really come off as petty and whiny. There's no need to publicly justify a shipping increase, and no need to go overboard with fancy packaging. Keep it simple, cover your costs, make a fair profit. Focus on your keen eye, good taste, knowledge, and let's face it… a fair bit of luck.

The Red Velvet Shoe said...

Well said, Jody. I, too, take great care to package & wrap items carefully & professionally--I believe part of the experience of on-line shopping is getting a beautiful package in the mail. Protecting the merchandise is evidence of our respect for it, and making it look nice is evidence of respect for our clientele. I have definitely paid out of pocket on shipping far more often than I've made a profit, and when I have miscalculated, I have refunded the client the difference if it is more than a few dollars.
There's always Walmart for those who don't want to pay for excellent customer service.

Susan said...

As a buyer only, I greatly appreciate the care private sellers take in wrapping packages. I would never expect a small, independent seller to act like Amazon -- of course, they're cramming the shipping costs into the product cost!

Know that you all have plenty of buyers who respect what you do and would never demand free shipping.

K.Line said...

You know of my passion about shipping charges (specifically about the artificial - as I see it - mark up to Canada, my endless soap box issue which I'll aim to circumvent in this comment :-)). In truth, I'd rather that a company add shipping costs into the price of the item - in which case every consumer is absorbing that shipping equally. Furthermore, I like to know, when I look at the price on a site, that that's actually what I'm going to pay. But that's simply my preference.

I appreciate it when items are beautifully packaged but, as a consumer, as long as they arrive safely, I'd prefer not to pay more for that luxury. When buying vintage, one undertakes a different shipping arrangement than for "regular modern goods", IMO, because the items are often delicate and relatively expensive.

One other thing: I appreciate that large items will cost more to ship than small ones and that beautiful vintage is likely to be on the large end. It's just frustrating as a consumer when one is charged a large shipping fee for a small item that is neither insured nor traceable, as is often the case these days - though not on this wonderful site, of course.

Miss Rayne said...

Those who offer 'free' shipping are merely adding the cost onto the sale price of the item, it would not be in their interest not to do so.

Lydia said...

I don't know if you are aware that Fedex offers huge discounts to companies who set up accounts and use them often. At my office, I get up to 75% savings on shipping. Maybe if you have to do a lot of shipping that's something to look into, and you'd save money on insurance as Fedex tracks and covers packages up to $150.00.

I think it's fair to present why/how you spend the shipping money. I agree with Lorraine, though, that it could have been done with less annoyance.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

Thank you Lydia, I'll look into that. I do know that FedEx is not a good option for international shipments as their broker fees charged to the customer are quite high. Sorry to have sounded whiny or annoyed. It's hard to express things with the written word sometimes.

K.Line said...

I don't think you sounded whiny, J. You have a well-founded perspective and you want to chat about it on your blog, which is your special space.

Vintage Homemaking said...

Nothing makes me feel more terrible than getting a shipping quote request from out side of the U.S. Quoting $40 as the cheapest way to ship a pair of sandals makes me feel shameful, but like you, I don't charge any handling fees. I also don't charge outrageous prices, if I buy a pair of vintage shoes for $4 and sell them for $20 I'm pleased for the day, so I can't offer free shipping either and I refuse to rape people on the prices to make up for free shipping. I used to insure everything until I had something arrive damaged, and when I called the post office I was told that the insurance didn't cover packages lost, stolen or damaged during shipping; which seemed crazy to me because that is EXACTLY why I bought it! If someone wants the insurance they can pay the extra for it because I charge actual shipping charges, if my quote is more than a dollar over actual shipping fees, I refund the amount of overage.

All of my shipping supplies were close to free if not free; my tissue a friend gave me, she bought a box lot from a florist shop closing auction and had no used for 800 pieces of tissue my boxes were 100 for $3.00 at an estate sale and my tyvek envelopes (for patterns and small items) were $1.00 for $50 at an estate sale. At the rate I sell things this will last me for a few years, lol

Mayrozez said...

I was just telling a friend how much I appreciate the way you ship your items.

First, because you use Priority Mail, they arrive sooner than with standard UPS and I'm usually pretty eager to get that exciting package. Next, the box, the box! I am so tired of returning items that were destroyed in transit because they were shipped in an envelope.

And then there is always the little "treat" of opening it and seeing how beautifully and carefully it is wrapped. I am always amazed by how well the items travel. I just received a silk chiffon dress from you this week, and when I lifted it out of its wrapping, it just fell beautifully in place. I could have worn it right then without steaming it at all. And everything I have received from you has been that way.

Yes, I love free shipping, but I do know what it actually costs to ship something well, and when it comes to vintage, I am willing to pay that price.

Nicole said...

I work in online marketing and for an e-commerce company. You are totally right, people increase prices and then say "free shipping!" because most companies have found that people do not complete orders once they see the cost of shipping. There is a lot of Internet shopping psychology going on and most companies are finding it is easier to increase costs and offer free shipping b/c users like to feel like they are getting something for free and they like that the price they see is the final price.

It is really impossible to do in a lot of business - like where weight varies greatly. So, it is really annoying when people complain about shipping, as they are paying for it one way or another.

Annie Hollywood said...

Oh absolutely. I'm not a business owner but I got a feel for this conundrum ebaying a bunch of things prior to a cross-country move. It was nerve wracking making sure items arrived properly! I do think building part of the shipping cost into the price is a good sales strategy.

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