When you visit most shopping websites, there's a banner indicating "free" shipping; it lets you know how much must be spent before they'll drop postage charges. It's a minimum for most consumers and a goal for the company in question. They want each shopper to spend X dollars, and adding an incentive has proven successful. If customers think they're getting something free – such as not paying postage fees – they'll buy more. The customer gets more product, and the brand sells more merchandise – win-win, right?
In 2013, Amazon famously upped their free shipping minimum to $35. A hike by $10, few saw the increase as much of a threat; they still shopped and took advantage of a threshold that was still much lower than competitors' sites. Meanwhile, those who subscribed to Amazon Prime (roughly $100 for the year, depending on student or parent discounts) received free shipping year-round. On all qualifying items, and without spending a minimum; they also received additional product discounts. Just three years later, however, that price has jumped up to $49 – a whopping 40% increase, leaving even Amazon loyalists to scratch their heads.
Meanwhile, Staples implemented a minimum of $14.99 for free shipping – on every order – for their rewards members. It was a practice they upheld for years. Their rewards program is still free to join, but now requires a certain amount be spent before charges are waived.
Website 6pm.com is another to join this "you must spend this much to pass" trend. After its long-standing reputation for hosting no shipping charges, with no restrictions, the company now requires $50 of business before they'll foot the postage fees. The news came at a huge disappointment for its shoppers – and all online shoppers as a whole – starting what might be the beginning of the end.
Of course it's not. Companies have to make money – there's no way they could afford to pay outright for postage, for every sale, and still turn a profit. Fees, like postage and packaging supplies, are built right into their pricing system. Just like overhead costs and labor wages – those are real company expenses that we pay for, but never see actual numbers. They charge more than what it costs them. It's simple math, and shipping is no different.
However, when companies put more items in each box, and gain discounts for a single package, etc. it's actually a process that can help the consumer. Yes, these minimums might actually a good thing. Even though it means more dollars spent, and even though "free" really isn't free. With ongoing regulations, it means operating fees can go down. It means the chance at lower prices overall. Companies know they'll be saving when shipping out goods, allowing individual line fees to drop. Even if you choose to pay for postage out of pocket – which isn't always that pricey and can keep you from spending extra funds on items you don't want or need. (Yeah you're still getting something for your money when meeting minimums, but that's logic that won't always work in your favor.)
Take advantage of these savings by waiting between orders to ensure you're still getting what you want/need and aren't over-spending. If you belong to Amazon Prime you can still get free shipping on small orders (unless it's an "add-on item"). Or, browse online and shop in-store.
Keep these ongoing changes in mind, and remember that just because it's "free" doesn’t mean it won't cost.
Even if shipping isn't actually free (☹️), you can always head over to DealsPlus to find great daily deals and coupons to save you money. Check out savings at some of your favorite online retailers: