Why Online Shipping Costs Are Driving Women Away

It's a common scenario - she comes to your site, finds what she wants, adds it to her cart, and sometime during checkout she sees what she considers to be an unrealistic and unfair shipping cost. 

She bails.

From the anecdotal evidence I've received, shipping costs are an even bigger problem with women than men. 

I suspect that the reason shipping costs are a deal killer for women is because women may be more likely to think the price is "unfair."

In a blog post on Grokdotcom.com, I asked the question Do Women Respond to "Free Shipping" More than Men? It sparked quite a debate. 

There were some very insightful comments and stories from etailers about their own experience.

From one example I gave – from the comments and other women I've polled -women feel better about a purchase where the product is $36 and the shipping is $4, than a product that is $32, but shipping is $8.  The final price is the same. (There's a similar story in the comments from Rob and his experience selling on Amazon)

In her article Is it Just Me or Are Online Shipping Costs Too High? Jennifer Foote describes her own experience with shipping costs:

Of course, I have always realized that shipping costs could be high, but I never really experienced it firsthand until recently. I, like many other online shoppers, assumed that I would have to pay a fairly decent amount of money for a large item, such as a piece of furniture, but what about something smaller. For instance, I was interested in purchasing my mother a necklace for her birthday. Call me cheap, but something that weighs about the same as a standard envelop shouldn't cost more than seven or eight dollars to be shipped.

When taking the costs of shipping into consideration, it is important to remember how those items are being shipping. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell until your items have arrived. However, even if that necklace was shipped priority mail, which it wouldn't have been, and even with insurance, the shipping still shouldn't have totaled seven or even eight dollars, in my opinion. Of course, like a fool, I decided to pay the shipping. It was something that could be delivered to my mother's door, but since that day I have always been thinking about the high costs of shopping online.

Folks – this is a perception battle.  Even if your shipping costs are perfectly fair (it can be expensive to ship certain items), if she perceives them to be exorbitant, you risk losing the sale. 


Another factor could be that women are weighing the benefits of online vs. offline shopping.  If you have a brick and mortar store – is it worth it to pay a shipping cost she may feel is too high if she can buy it offline? 

So, what can you do to keep shipping costs from driving female customers away?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Send an email from customer service to customers who have abandoned their cart.  Ellen Hart at Careerbags.com has had a high success rate of corresponding with customers, explaining costs and savings sales.  
  2. Do some number crunching and see if it makes sense to offer free shipping with purchases over a certain dollar amount – i.e. free shipping with orders over $100. 
  3. Offer a flat shipping fee – say $5.95 for all orders.   Again, look at shipping costs vs. potential for increased revenue.
  4. If you have some sort of customer loyalty or frequent buyer program, consider free or reduced shipping as a reward for your best customers.  (That free shipping incentive might feel more valuable to her than a 10% off discount)

I've been asked if etailers should reach out in those abandoned cart emails to offer a discount.  I recommend against this since you don't want to train your customers to abandon their carts in order to get discounts.    If you have to have an incentive, offer a free sample or other value-add.

Shipping costs are a major issue in online shopping for women and for men. What's been your experience?  What steps are you taking to address this issue?

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9 Responses to Why Online Shipping Costs Are Driving Women Away

  1. Holly –
    You are so right about this… I think you put your finger right on it when you called out that what puts women off is when it feels “unfair.” I’ve often thought etailers should just tack on an extra couple of dollars to the product price ($36 vs $32) so they could take it off the shipping ($4 vs $8).
    Two retailers who really address this shipping resistance well are Costco and Amazon. At Costco.com, they don’t make any big deal of it… Just when you go to buy the product, there’s a modest little note that “price includes all shipping and handling.” This qualifies as the type of “surprise and delight” that gives Costco.com a major, major competitive advantage, makes me a brand fan, and beyond that, a brand ambassador, as I can’t wait to communicate my happy finding to friends.
    But in my opinion, Amazon’s solution is absolutely brilliant: We pay $75/year for a Prime Membership, which means the four members of my family get free, two-day shipping for all items that qualify (I’d guess about 85% do), no matter how many we order or what size or weight it is. Why is this brilliant? First, whereas prior to Prime, I would often put items on my Wish list so that I could bundle them all into a large enough order to qualify for free “Super Shipping,” now I never hesitate to order just one item at a time, meaning amazon makes money on many more of my impulses.
    Second, it cements my loyalty to amazon, because I always check there first; even when I comparison shop, I don’t bother trying to save a couple of bucks with another etailer because I know by the time they reveal the shipping costs at the end of the process, it will net out more expensive. Finally, amazon has gotten me to willingly pay for a good portion of the shipping charges I would have incurred – upfront! It is still a great deal for us (you have to understand that my family probably orders 12-15 items a month from the site), but meanwhile, amazon recaptures some of the revenue, instead of it being completely a “best customer” investment.
    Anyhow – your article is right on…. It’s amazing how few etailers seem to realize how much revenue this “unfair shipping charges” perception is costing them.
    Warm Regards
    Marti Barletta

  2. Great testing idea Adam.
    Marti – great points – I hadn’t thought of increasing more “impulse” buys and getting items off wish lists and into shopping carts.
    I am a little embarrassed that my single Amazon habit isn’t that far off from your family of four. But I am a rabid reader, especially business/science books which I mark all over, which is why the library is not an option.

  3. I can certainly see the havoc the extra shipping costs would play on actual sales at the end of the day. The key, I agree, to prevent abandoned shopping carts is to offer incentives like discount coupons and bonuses for customers that make them feel worth paying the shipping carts if they are getting something extra for their money.

  4. John Groom says:

    Great Posting, Holly. My wife uses that word “unfair” about shipping costs all the time; I never do. But I still am pulled in by how Amazon handles their shipping. It’s all the image — particle theory, whatever; everything has to fit with everything else, (which women spot more quickly than men).

  5. Jeff says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Holly – I’ve already forwarded it to a client to help him understand why his standard shipping rate could be causing him to lose sales.
    I totally agree with the perception thing, too. One client had a friggin’ heavy product (paper) that people didn’t always realize was heavy when shipped in bulk. We had him emphasize the weight of the shipped item on the shipping page to minimize any perceptions of unfair shipping costs. He also has free shipping with a big enough order. The two strategies combined seem to work.

  6. Is there any another key indicator that women are moving more of their consumer and leisure activities online?

  7. Bill Rowland says:

    Thanks for a great post.
    I’ve recently been considering different shipping options for a start-up business and find this discussion has been timely.
    I’ve been focusing on the concept of “fair,” but clearly shipping may be an opportunity to surprise & delight the customer. Perhaps that means I should consider free shipping: outright; above an order of a particular value; if the user subscribes to the monthly newsletter?

  8. Very nicely done indeed.I think listening to your members is key and ACTING on the info they share/provide is also important. Taking their feedback, knowledge etc and doing something with that information..whether that means promoting it so other members can benefit or making changes to how the community is run, features it includes, etc. Certainly you should communicate how you are acting on the info your members provide.Don’t forget that another way to build online community is to leave your own community from time to time and visit others.

  9. ¿Hay algún otro indicador clave de que las mujeres se mueven más de sus consumidores y actividades de ocio en línea?

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