In this installment of our ongoing Auto Parts Ecommerce Marketing Fundamentals series, we’re going to look at shipping from a consumer’s perspective. While it might sound boring to talk about “shipping policies,” shipping costs are a primary concern for consumers who shop online.
Free Shipping Is Ideal
When we look at ecommerce in general (without focusing on auto parts), we find that free shipping is the industry standard. Amazon.com has led the way here, as they’ve been offering free shipping since inception. However, other highly successful ecommerce retailers like Walmart.com and Dell.com offer free shipping, as do a host of smaller, fast-growing ecommerce sites. What’s more, free shipping has been shown to increase sales time and time again.
Unfortunately, free shipping is extraordinarily difficult for many auto part and accessory retailers because:
- Many auto parts are large and/or heavy, and can not be sold without accounting for a substantial shipping cost
- Many parts or accessories don’t have a large enough margin to cover shipping costs
- Consumers often compare the cost of a part at their local O’Reilly’s or Advance Auto Parts to the cost of a part online…it’s hard for online retailers to win this comparison if they “pad” their part costs with additional profit margin to cover shipping
Fortunately, auto parts consumers seem somewhat tolerant of shipping charges, as many of the retailers we work with are successful while charging for shipping. Still, when you consider how much free shipping can increase sales (some ecommerce sites have reported 50-90% sales increases after adopting a free shipping policy), it’s a policy worth considering.
Keep in mind that free shipping usually has an asterisk*. Auto parts retailers who are offering free shipping either:
- Require consumers to order a certain dollar amount (like AutoPartsWarehouse.com or AdvanceAutoParts.com) to qualify for free shipping, and/or
- Exclude certain items from the free shipping offer (like AutoAnything.com)
Consumers have come to expect both of these caveats, which means that retailers can exclude certain parts (or categories of parts) from the free shipping offer and ask consumers to spend upwards of $100 to qualify for free shipipng.
Finally, if you can’t do free shipping, consider offering flat rate shipping instead. Offering a flat rate on all orders – or even on orders over a certain dollar amount – can boost sales too.
Shipping Must Be Fast
Fast shipping makes it easier for consumers to buy online – that’s why it’s so important. If shipping is slow, consumers buy offline.
When consumers choose not to buy parts and accessories online, it’s often because they don’t want to wait for parts to arrive. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to boost sales volume is to talk about how fast your order fulfillment and shipping process is.
For starters, same-day shipping on in-stock orders is an industry standard, at least when orders are submitted before a certain cut-off time. Be sure to tell consumers when your cut-off time is, as that may create some urgency to place an order.
Second, be sure to offer your customers a “rush order” shipping option, with a later cut-off time. While it’s only a small percentage of buyers that will opt for rush shipping, these orders are often considered to be orders you wouldn’t have otherwise received, as consumers who need a part or accessory ASAP will look locally if they can’t order the part they need quickly online.
Other Shipping Best Practices
- Some ecommerce customers feel like they’re being tricked or mislead when shipping and handling charges aren’t readily available. Thus, it’s a very good idea to give consumers the option to calculate shipping before they begin ordering. Of course, if shipping is free (or if you offer flat rate shipping), than you can just advertise this policy on the site.
- Publish an easy-to-read shipping policy written in simple language – the benefits of doing so should be obvious.
- Enumerate shipping policies for Alaska and Hawaii, Canada, and international orders. Are you going to charge residents of Alaska and Hawaii a substantial premium for shipping? Are you going to ship to Canada, Central or South America? If so, how much will you charge? Publishing a policy that answers these questions will save you time (you staff won’t have to answer emails about shipping policies), and a stated policy will encourage customers in these areas to order (assuming you ship parts to Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, etc. – some retailers don’t).
- Explain how you’ll handle order tracking and confirmation. Consumers like to be able to track their orders, so it’s a good idea to provide them with a tracking number. If that’s what you do, put that in your shipping policy.
- Explain how do you handle returns, including damaged or incorrect orders. Another common concern that customers have about buying online is that they won’t be able to return their orders easily, that they’ll get “stuck” with damaged or incorrect parts, etc.
Finally, be sure to advertise the fact that you offer fast, affordable shipping. We’ve found that talking about shipping tends to increase sales and conversion rates, both in advertising and on your website.