Service of Free Shipping & Returns

October 15th, 2015

Categories: E-Commerce, Retail, Shipping Charges

delivering package

Loretta Chao wrote “More Retailers Offering Free Shipping on Returns,” which caught my eye because I’m spoiled by online retailers who swallow the cost of shipping back and forth instead of foisting the charges on me. She wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “About 49% of retailers now offer free return shipping, according to a new study released this month by the National Retail Federation, underscoring how companies that had long been resistant to footing the bill for returns are being forced to do so by their customers.”

I see shipping as an e-tailer’s cost of doing business just like rent in often expensive neighborhoods and the salaries of sales associates are costs that standard retailers shoulder. I’m irritated when an e-tailer asks for a minimum purchase that’s too high–like $100–to qualify for free shipping and I pass on the opportunity if I only need $39 worth of goods. If there’s a generous sale involved, I can accept a minimum order without gripe.

ecommerce fulfillmentThose in e-commerce would do well to guarantee free returns, even if they charge for the initial shipping, or people may increasingly be reluctant to buy more than commodities. Sizes of clothing and shoes are zany and the vase you thought Aunt Irene would love may not be a fit. It’s inconvenient enough to repack a box and deliver it someplace without adding the insult of another charge.

“The added costs will put a strain on retailers gearing up for the peak holiday season, which historically is followed by a surge in returns,” wrote Chao. “In January, returns were up 15% over average return rates for 2014, and the volume is growing, Mr. Jindel said.” Satish Jindel is president of SJ Consulting Group Inc. and shipping data firm ShipMatrix Inc.

Another industry expert, Chris Dunn said that in the past e-tailers thought people simply wouldn’t return things so they didn’t have to worry about offering the service. Chao quoted Dunn: “‘They’re starting to realize that you’re still going to return, and you’re not going to buy from that retailer again.’”

Do you pay attention to shipping costs when you buy online? Have you ever balked when you’ve seen what the shipping costs will be even after taking the time to identify what you want and fill out all the charge and address information? If you’re buying something that needs to fit a person, a bed or a window, or a gift that someone might want to exchange, do you cancel an order if you, or the recipient, must pay to ship the return?

 carrying package

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16 Responses to “Service of Free Shipping & Returns”

  1. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: Absolutely, we pay attention to shipping and return policies, and may actually pay a little bit more to shop at e-tailes who have generous policies….

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    With the exception of flowers/plants that people don’t generally return, I don’t send too many gifts from the Internet so I don’t know if the recipient must pay for a return or if that charge would be made to the person who ordered the gift. If the former, a good intention may turn out to be not such a great gift.

  3. ASK Said:

    I’ve cancelled orders with e-tailers, particularly with those that offer specialty foods, when I’ve reached the shipping-cost pages…The cost of the food item is often higher than what you would pay in a shop…it’s like adding insult to injury.

  4. hb Said:

    I generally avoid shopping online because I am prone to making key stroke errors, but when I do I always use as a guideline the all-in, including shipping, per unit cost per item to see if I am getting a fair price.

    It never occurred to me to worry about return costs. You make a very good point, but how do you figure in the cost in human terms of the hassle and lost time when you have to ship something to return it?

  5. Judy Schuster Said:

    I do 95 percent of my shopping on the Internet because shopping at malls is difficult due to health issues. This means that most of my gifts are purchased via the Internet as well.

    Many of these purchases can be returned to local stores, however, even though I received them via the Internet. The gifts themselves are generally sent to me first, so that I can check them over and gift wrap them before they are presented. Only a few are then mailed, since most of my shopping is for my children and grandchildren, all of whom live in this area. That said, if returns of gifts to my direct family need to be made I handle them myself.

    I don’t worry much about returns, since I am made aware of requests and sizes before I shop. However, if I purchase something that may be returned by others to companies not in this area, I let the receiver handle it. I don’t worry about the cost.

    I have added a small purchase to qualify for free shipping. I note free returns on gifts given to others and include the receipt. I do appreciate receiving receipts that do not mention the cost itself. (Often there are two receipts one for me; one to include with the gift that does not mention the price.)

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If the shipping fee is ridiculous, I, too cancel the order. Sometimes I hear from the online retailer who reminds me that I hadn’t completed the order. Smart technology but it doesn’t get me to change my mind.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Most Americans have cars. Dropping off packages for them isn’t a big deal. And often retailers let you return items to their retail stores. The time saved by ordering on line–no traffic, finding a parking spot, or jumping on a subway or bus and once at the store, finding the location of the department–makes up for lost time to return. And you can always hope that you won’t need to return anything.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Sometimes I have a lineup of shampoo waiting for me to use or a backlog of calcium pills that I’ve bought to meet a minimum order requirement. I wonder how such a requirement helps the bottom line of many e-commerce operations!

  9. Martha Takayama Said:

    This post targets the most significant factors that do or do not make e-commerce appealing. Everything you point out is logical and correct. Years ago only merchandise that was “on sale”, meaning discounted and which was almost always purchased in person, had the restriction “Final Sale”. That policy is long gone, except for fragile evening wear or cosmetics and other items that involve sanitation issues. Clearly the no-frills” aspects of e-commerce without the costs of real estate, visual presentation, and actual paid sales associates should permit e-tailers to offer the savings and convenience of providing free shipping and back and forth. There are myriad reasons which may result in a customer wanting to return a purchase. Fit is of course foremost with any kind of clothing, and fitting in, with decor. It is terribly awkward to send a present, other than perishables, that cannot be returned. Of course, there will be the numerous “other” reasons like on return forms for a return.

    Like you, I have had the same reaction of not purchasing because of padded shipping costs that appear after a tedious process of sharing an enormous amount of information with a website. I have mixed feelings about the convenience e-commerce actually offers. Of course the peak holiday season always has been followed by a deluge of exchanges and returns. We can only assume that the e-tailers take that into consideration during the annual and ever more oppressive gift-giving season.

  10. RCF Said:

    Yes! I find the shipping costs prohibitive at times. More annoying is when they offer “free shipping” but then do not allow use of an advertised discount since they say you cannot use two “coupons” on one order. I have just about stopped shopping on line, except for the time honored places like LL Bean that truly stand behind their “No shipping costs, ever!” statement.

    I guess it costs the company to ship things. But the costs seem more than I would have to pay at the P.O. And it does not seem to matter how large the item is, but rather its cost. Insurance? Perhaps. It might be interesting to find out what the economies of scale are, and how the businesses justify the possible loss of business. Do you know anybody in that field?

    Thank you, as always, for interesting and provocative questions and thoughts.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Judy has one answer: Get from family a list of ‘druthers, along with sizes and color preferences. That should cut down the returns considerably.

    I forgot to mention unhappy color and pattern surprises when you see an item in person–thanks for mentioning that.

    I imagine that a huge warehouse in a poor area would cost a fraction of what it does to maintain a tony retail operation with glitzy merchandising, heat or air conditioning, lighting and well dressed sales associates who should have product knowledge. A forklift operator needs training but not that much. People sitting at a computer in the warehouse accepting orders where the shopper has done all the heavy lifting by sharing information in appropriate boxes can handle far more orders than a sales associate in a retail department. And shipping costs for a company with hundreds/thousands of boxes a day are far less than charges for an individual sending a box or two a month.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Actually I do know a brilliant trade editor–Warren Shoulberg–but I don’t know if he would have handy this specific information. If I get a chance I might take a look at Google and report back.

    What confuses me is how the online divisions of a company such as CVS, the drug store, compete with its retail stores. They are opening branches a mile a minute in NYC. And I get discount coupons, sometimes for online shopping and other times for instore shopping for as much as 30 percent. I assume that by having and promoting both they capture bigger market share.

    I’ve seen sliding shipping charges predicated on money spent, though not recently. It makes zero sense: A $300 scarf might cost a fortune and a $50 pair of boots far less. I don’t think insurance is involved but perhaps it is. Insurance would fall under “handling” as in shipping and handling. But from a PR standpoint, anything that causes loss of confidence by customers is not a good thing.

  13. JM Said:

    I rarely buy on line and mainly LLBean and a prescription which is shipped free.

    I’m not tech savvy and do not even pay bills on line. I know I’m old fashioned but we were scammed by a local gas station who used John’s credit for a purchase in Nice, France! The credit card company tracked it down so the charge was deleted from our bill. Who knows how it all ended.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I was just notified today that a credit card I hardly use and NEVER for online purchases or restaurant bills was picked up for questionable purchases by the fraud dept. The card was used in North Carolina [to cover a doctor’s visit] and in Queens NY and Long Island–$300+ at Target and $50 at White Castle. I’m beside myself. I have no idea how this happened. I may write [another] post along these lines.

  15. Lucrezia Said:

    I don’t pay shipping as a rule. Exception: if item(s) are on sale by a large enough margin to make it worthwhile. There appears to be enough desperation (?) greed (?) out there for many retailers to reel in the customers, so shipping isn’t usually an issue.

    Unless I’m very sure a recipient will enjoy a gift, I don’t buy it online. No reason to subject either of us with the hassle of such returns.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I lean in your direction–avoiding purchasing gifts online unless the person has hinted about an item and it would be the same whether bought in a store on on Amazon, such as a book. Another obvious exception is buying from among a bride and groom’s selections in their wedding registry. In that case, clicking a box and typing in a credit card number is so much faster than dragging to a store, especially if it’s a store I dislike. I’ve been the lucky recipient of wonderful food, fruit and flower gifts purchased on line. You can’t go wrong with these!

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