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Well, if you’re reading this article then you probably are aware of Etsy’s new push aka “shove” aka “strong-arm tactic” to get all sellers (at least sellers that sell to customers in the U.S.) to offer free shipping.
Etsy has made it abundantly clear that if you don’t comply with this “suggestion”, your rankings in Etsy search results WILL suffer.
So… Does offering free shipping increase sales on Etsy? After all, that’s the automatic inference right? Without making you wade through this entire article to find the answer, here it is: No. I believe that offering free shipping will NOT necessarily increase your Etsy sales.
Why Offering Free Shipping Will Not Increase Your Etsy Sales
First off, Etsy makes no such guarantee.
You won’t see anywhere in the emails Etsy has sent out to sellers on this topic or on their website where they lay out all the findings from their customer research surveys, any link between offering free shipping and increased sales for all sellers.
Oh yes, they say that sales increased on Etsy, but that’s a cumulative outcome. It’s not an outcome that can be extrapolated, or “retro-polated” to individual sellers (yes, I do believe I just made up that word).
I am neither for nor against offering free shipping. I am not writing this article in order to sway your opinion or decision in one direction or another about whether or not to offer free shipping.
I have no stake in that at all. I really am 100% indifferent.
I will however tell you what I have done and what I am going to do for an Etsy shop that I run because, like you, I’m just another seller trying to figure out what works best for me and my own Etsy shop.
This is simply an opinion piece and me offering to share the results I see from my own experimentation in this Etsy shop – Simply Craft Supplies.
My Etsy Free Shipping Journey To Date
Like pretty much almost every other Etsy seller I’m aware of, I got the initial email from Etsy announcing that sellers who offered free shipping to U.S. customers on orders over $35 would receive favored placement in Etsy’s search results and those who didn’t would not.
I’ll be honest, I was initially taken aback by the brazenness of the ultimatum but I also appreciated the forthrightness in stating the facts as they would be once these changes took effect.
There is so much speculating within the Etsy community sometimes about what factors, seen and unseen… spoken and unspoken… that will help your items rank higher in search and what factors will negatively impact your search rankings.
So to hear so directly from the horse’s mouth such a major change to their ranking algorithm, was on the one hand refreshing and also simultaneously terrifying. But that’s just me.
My Initial Thoughts & Reactions
Quite frankly, when I first read the initial email, I just had so much going on around me both literally and figuratively, that I didn’t have the mind space to even act on it.
So I initially didn’t immediately jump on the bandwagon to offer free shipping as Etsy recommended.
My initial reason for not doing so was simply due partially to laziness and partially to a lack of time needed to sit down and figure out exactly how to do it for my shop.
A few days later, I went trolling around on YouTube to see “what the streets were saying” and my goodness, was I taken aback afresh by the backlash from many Etsy seller YouTubers!
A number of them presented reasons for not offering free shipping, a good number of which centered around the potential legality (or more precisely, the illegality) of offering “free” shipping but really wrapping the cost of shipping into the product price per Etsy’s suggestion.
Now I’m no lawyer, so this was news to me.
There could be ethical/legal reasons for not offering free shipping in the manner Etsy was proposing that sellers do it, i.e. add the cost of shipping into your product price and tell your buyers that they’re getting free shipping.
But it got me thinking…
- Does Etsy not have it’s own in-house legal team?
- Would they not have known this and if they did/do know this, why sanction the move?
- If they didn’t know about it (and if it is indeed factual), should Etsy be considering getting a new legal team?
Could Etsy really have made such a major legal faux pas, and so publicly too?
I don’t know.
Then Came The Etsy Survey
About a month or so after the changes went into effect, I still had not made any strides towards offering free shipping in my Etsy shop then I received an email from Etsy to do a survey.
Again, with all the stuff going on around me I pushed it to the back burner.
I got a couple more reminders and then a final reminder and at that point I decided to take a look at the survey.
Now there was a warning of sorts in the survey that basically said respondents were not to share the contents of the survey and I don’t want Etsy’s aforementioned legal team to come after me so I won’t go into detail about what was asked or what the survey was about but you can probably guess…
Hint: I guess Etsy pegged me as a “free shipping hold out”… And that’s all I’ll say about that.
Anyway, I completed the survey because usually, but not always, when people ask for my opinions I share them.
Then Came Email #2
There was no disclaimer in this email that warned against sharing its contents so I’m posting a screenshot of it below.
Prior to receiving this particular email, I had been pretty indifferent to the whole thing, but something about this email just got me a little miffed.
Reading this particular email was the first time I actually felt like I was being forced to offer free shipping. The initial announcement could have been construed as an informational update… a “do with this what you will”… type of message, but this one… No.
The bolded section made me feel like I was being reprimanded for not doing what they had “advised” me to do.
Note: Etsy bolded that section themselves in the email, not me… Again, the emphasis was added by Etsy, not me.
I mean, if every seller in every category on Etsy offers free shipping, does Etsy promise to squeeze us all on the first page? Wouldn’t the whole thing just be a wash at that point? And if we all offer free shipping, then what criteria will Etsy use to rank us all beyond free shipping?
Here’s something else I thought about…
If a seller has the exact item a buyer is searching for, will Etsy purposely suppress that seller’s listing even though it fully meets the buyers search intention if said seller is not offering free shipping? And if so, what type of search engine is that?
Anybody with any irrelevant product could just as easily pay to play and buyers would end up having a poor searching and buying experience if the results on the first page don’t match what they’re actually looking for. Right?
Am I overthinking this or is that what it really boils down to?
Etsy Free Shipping At The End Of The Day
Well, all of my grandstanding and kvetching won’t do anything at the end of the day so I have to make a decision.
All Etsy is offering is a chance for sellers to show up on the first page of search in exchange for offering free shipping. It is not a guarantee and they for sure they cannot guarantee that even if you do show up on the first page of their search results that you will get more sales.
As of the time I am drafting this blog post, I have not set up free shipping and my sales are not any better or worse than they were before all this became an issue.
I do plan to experiment with offering free shipping to see if doing so indeed does increase my sales volume OR makes no difference at all in my sale volume…
I will admit that I am slightly biased and I doubt that it will increase my sales volume, but that’s no way to approach this. I will go into this experiment with an open mind.
Watch for updates as I embark on this Etsy free shipping journey case study.
Experiment To Answer The Question:
Does Free Shipping Increase Sales On Etsy?
My initial response above was based on my own thought process and just thinking through the logistics but now it’s time to conduct a “scientific” experiment.
I will offer free shipping in the Etsy shop Simply Craft Supplies, and measure the results.
I don’t think I will roll the price of shipping into the individual product prices of my products because the thought of having to undo all that when this experiment is over is not appealing, not to mention that I could potentially be bilking the customers who buy multiple products to meet the $35 threshold.
That just doesn’t sit well with me.
Side note: by bilking my customers, I mean that if I add the cost of shipping to each item, then a customer who buys say 5 items to meet the $35 threshold, will actually end up paying the shipping cost 5 times… Yikes! I considered adding in the shipping cost and then refunding the customer for the overage but wait… I’ll be offering “free shipping” soooooo, how does that work?!
This is all so confusing.
So it looks like I’ll be eating the cost of shipping for the duration of this experiment.
Beginning Stats As Of 09/09/2019
- Etsy Shop: Simply Craft Supplies
- Sales: 391
- Stats (average over the last 30 days): see screenshots below