Thanks in great part to Amazon and other big-brand online retailers, shoppers have gotten used to not paying a separate fee for shipping, even if it is actually baked into item costs. And platforms like Etsy have been following suit, encouraging sellers to offer free shipping to buyers so they can compete.

But we all know that shipping isn’t actually free, nor is it cheap — especially in a country like Canada, with big distances and big fuel surcharges to match. So what’s a small seller to do? We surveyed our followers on Instagram for some thoughts on the issue. Got your own perspective to share? Post it in the comments!

Free shipping helps draw in customers

None of us is immune to the lure of free shipping, so it’s easy to understand that it might encourage customers to buy. There’s something about getting something for free that’s appealing, and the opposite is true, too — it sucks to see the price you thought you were going to pay jump up once tax and shipping are added on top. (This is all part of pricing psychology, which is simultaneously fascinating and disconcerting.)

Gemma Smith of Re-Vive the Tee (@revive_the_tee) in Calgary, for example, offers free shipping on her custom T-shirt quilts because she feels like her “customers see it as a ‘deal’” — even though she admits shipping in Canada is “pretty pricey.”

Eleanor Stainsby of Stainsby Studios (@stainsbystudios) in Toronto agrees, and offers free shipping on her Etsy store “because it’s better for my ranking in search.” On her website, though, she offers flat rate shipping: “Ceramics are heavy and people get worried about costs,” she says. She adjusts prices depending on the platform so everyone pays the same amount no matter where they shop.

For Tracy East of Abbey Hill Design (@abbeyhilldesign) in Callander, Ont., free shipping is doable for small items that “fit through Canada Post’s ‘slot of doom’” and therefore meet the size and weight requirements of letter mail. “Otherwise nope,” she says. (She bought a plexiglass “slot of doom” from a local seller for about $12, she adds. “I use it constantly!”)

Free shipping might help raise purchase amounts

One trick many sellers use is to offer free shipping over a certain purchase amount. Samantha Brazeau-Wilson of Birch Jewellery (@birchjewellery) in Ottawa, for example, will ship for free on purchases over $100. “Shipping across Canada is so unpredictable,” she says. “It’s anywhere between $13 and $25 for expedited. The $100 minimum encourages them to spend more and ups my average order amount but I honestly just pulled that amount out of the sky. Seemed reasonable and it works so far!”

(Looking for a method to set your own free shipping minimum? In a Workshop event earlier this year, Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia recommended looking at your average sale total and setting a number that's a bit higher than that. You can find out more by reading and watching our event recap.)

Toronto-based designer Lindsay Stephenson (@lindsaystephenson) agrees: “Free shipping over a certain order $ helps increase average order values,” she told us via DM, “which is 👍🏼.”

Cate Kuzik of Ochre Lea (@ochrelea) in Edmonton does offer free shipping on orders over $150 — “otherwise I can’t afford it ’cause it’s not free,” she says — but she doesn’t believe it makes a difference to her basket sizes. “As someone that sells leather goods, I find my price point is higher than a lot of other goods,” she says, “which makes customers consider their purchases more.”

A pox on free shipping

Finally, there are the makers who refuse to offer so-called free shipping.

For the team at InfiKnitLove (@8knitlove) in Toronto, for instance, it’s simply not a possibility. “We are too small & can’t afford to absorb the cost 😢,” they told us.

As for textile artist Jen Manuell of Fish Eye Sisters (@jen.manuell) in Orillia. Ont., she eschews the word “free” entirely. “I offer ‘shipping included’ on orders over $400,” she says. “I stopped calling it ‘free’ 1-2 years ago ;-).”

But first, math

Whether you offer free shipping to your customers comes down to a few things: the type of product you sell, the way you sell it and your personal philosophy on selling. But it also comes down to math. If you think that “free” shipping will help you find more shoppers and make more sales, it’s probably worth it. Just make sure to build it into your prices first.

What's your free shipping policy, and why did you make that decision? Share your tips in the comments!