Dave Gilboa was an MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School when he and three of his classmates realized they could use free shipping to shake up the e-commerce eyeglass industry.
In 2010, they launched Warby Parker with not just free shipping and free returns on all products, but a promotion called the Home Try On Program that lets consumers receive up to five frames and choose the ones they like best. Then, they ship all of them back and the frames they selected are fitted with prescription lenses and redelivered--all with no shipping expenses. The program has proven popular, and the New York-based company has grown to 100 employees. The company declined to disclose financial results.
While shipping is a significant cost, Gilboa views it as a marketing expense. "We really rely on customers to do our marketing for us," he says referring to word-of-mouth promotion and the buzz the company gets on Facebook and other social media sites.
To properly execute and promote your own free shipping program, consider these seven approaches:
Think beyond your website's home page. Merchants should include their free-shipping message throughout the shopping process up until the moment of purchase, says Kevin Eichelberger, founder and CEO of Blue Acorn, a Charleston, S.C.-based e-commerce agency. That means using the same colors, graphics and language throughout your site when referring to free shipping. Because consumers often don't come to your site through the home page, make sure the free shipping message is incorporated into your product pages, as well.
Work "free shipping" into your website's meta filters. People will often type "free shipping" with a product name when searching online, says Linda Bustos, director of e-commerce research at Elastic Path Software Inc., an enterprise e-commerce platform based in Vancouver, British Columbia. By including the term "free shipping" in your title tag, you give your business a greater chance of turning up in an online search.
Create delivery deadlines. Building urgency into free shipping offers can help push shoppers to buy. When holidays approach, let customers know their last day to qualify for free shipping and still receive their purchases on time, Eichelberger says. Whether through an email campaign or on your website, hard deadlines can be particularly effective with last-minute shoppers who tend to drag out their buying decisions.
Work with a third party to spread the word. Signing up for Free Shipping Day on December 17, or the website freeshipping.org can help you gain exposure, says Luke Knowles, founder and CEO of freeshipping.org, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based Web aggregator of free shipping deals. Last December, his website attracted 500,000 people looking for free shipping. Retailers can sign up for Free Shipping Day by filling out a form on the website, freeshippingday.com.
Use free shipping to raise the average value of your orders. If your website requires a minimum purchase amount to qualify for free shipping, make sure customers know how far they are from meeting it as they fill their shopping cart, Eichelberger says. You also can provide customers with a link to a page with items in the price range needed to reach the minimum threshold.
Offer free shipping as a reward to valuable customers. Rather than use free shipping to attract customers who are just out for a deal, make it a loyalty incentive for your existing customers, Eichelberger says. "Use it as a means to reward your best customers by making it an exclusive offer." You can create a Members Only section on your website to offer such exclusives and help build brand loyalty.
Promote free shipping after the sale. Don't waste the purchase completion page that appears after an online order has gone through, Eichelberger says. You can use it to offer a free shipping voucher on the customer's next order or advertise upcoming shipping promotions. Another option is offering customers the opportunity to post their purchase on their Facebook wall, Eichelberger says. You can include a message about free shipping in that status update to let others know about it.
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