How important is free post on eBay?

Free post on eBay is something that the marketplace has grappled with for over a decade. eBay stipulate with some justification that buyers appreciate free post and transparent pricing. Conversely it’s nigh on impossible to offer postage discounts for multiple purchases if you’re offering free post on eBay so sellers prefer not to offer it all the time.

There are ways to offer discounts on free post on eBay – we’ve published a piece setting out how to offer free post with discounts for multiple purchases but it’s not without problems. You can perhaps use multi-buy listings to offer free post for multiple purchases of a single item. You can also use promotions to offer discounts for when a buyer purchases multiple products from different listings. The former is limited and the later is impossible to manage if you’re offering one product which ships via Royal Mail letters and another product weighing 20kg that ships via a courier.

The reason we’re highlighting free post on eBay is the revelation that on Black Friday across eBay in the UK, US and Germany, 71% of products shipped with free post. These numbers may be skewed by virtue of the fact that many of these sales would have been from promoted deals where free post is the default, but it’s still an incredibly high percentage of listings with free shipping.

It’s worth emphasising that the 71% of products with free post on eBay were sold items – it’s not 71% of listings it’s 71% of sales that had free shipping.

We looked at 10 popular categories on eBay to determine the incidence of free post on eBay UK on the first page of search results – the first 48 listings. The headline statistic is that, from these 10 categories on the evening of the 10th of December, over 78% of listings on the first page of search results offered free shipping.

There were wide variations even between these 10 categories – 100% of watches (48) and 50% of Digital Cameras (24) offer free post, whereas only 7 Antique Clocks offered free post. In the Antique Clocks category a quarter (12) listings only offered collection in person so this is a bit of an outlier.

After Digital Cameras Laptops (31 out of 48 listings) was the next lowest category with all others having more than 42 out of 48 listings offering free post.

There are thousands of categories on eBay so it is worth checking the subcategories that you trade in, but in most of the categories we checked there appears to be a relatively low chance of your listings appearing on the first page of search results if you don’t offer free post on eBay.

Free shipping, on or off eBay, doesn’t exist – someone has to pay for it and indeed eBay just announced that they are hiking their courier prices through eBay Delivery powered by Shutl in the New Year. It’s likely that all couriers will raise prices in the near future and some already have both at home and abroad.

Sellers are only too aware of the free post challenge of appearing competitive both for single products and for multiple items and it’s a conundrum with no easy solution. But if you want the eBay Premium Service badge on your listings and, it would appear, placement on the first page of search results, it’s likely that you need to offer free post on eBay.

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other than offering a vital organ most sellers on ebay, have no more to offer our ebay prices are sliced to the bone , ebay need to stop squeezing the lemon . offering a better incentive than a silly badge with hypothetical ,ambiguous search placing, without profit "free post " is not possible

jim • 12th December 2018 •

"eBay stipulate with some justification that buyers appreciate free post and transparent pricing" even the wording "free postage" is a lie, it's anything but transparent, the price of the psotage is hidden in the price of the product, you have no idea which is which. So, which one is it? Free Postage or Transparent Pricing?

james • 12th December 2018 •

Perhaps one helpful thing would be if Ebay stopped taking their percentage on the value INCLUDING shipping. Which would at least mean that the shipping costs were an added extra with a clear price. Not to mention that the shipping costs do not stop at the postage or courier rate there are costs to packaging as well. Ebay would like to see everything start at £0.99 with free shipping, That's not realistic!

Ivan Parker • 12th December 2018 •

Way to big a money grab for them, plus most other markets are doing the same. HOWEVER silly as it effects "international sales" I charge the customer that 10+% on international but could be offering better rates.....always pros and cons...

SAM • 12th December 2018 •

Am afraid it is essential. HOWEVER nothing is free and the whole FREE post is just a big old marketing CON, you include it is the price, plus eBay already offer POOR coverage unless you pay stealth fees it is even worse with a post charge showing. I work with another marketplace from Scandinavia with a UK presence (highly underused in the UK also and 10 times the service as the two tax dodgers offer) and they have a great way of getting around the whole fanny about. They still help themselves to 10% just like Fleece you Bay and you can charge what post you like, but they just combine the 2 prices on their site and advertise FREE post anyway. It is actually a great way of doing it. Still a "marketplace race to the bottom" like with best price WINS, but no fixed search like eBay. I sell more their these days than Amazon and eBay....(they have standards and dont let all the CON artists on which helps).... PLUS if you are one of eBay's big brand buddies you can GET away with a post charge as they FIX the search in their favour, again it is one rule for some merchants and another for the select few, why eBay is now MINCE. However a certain type of customer has fallen for it ( eg my partner) hook line and sinker and think everything is kinda have to at least look like you are offering the so called FREE service.

SAM • 12th December 2018 •

The nub of the issue is that "free postage" works for commodities. If everybody else is doing it and you aren't, it sticks out like a sore thumb. But in collectables (13% of Ebay UK turnover, remember) it's nowhere near as significant. Besides, you can't factor in free postage for different countries. You can price in free postage for the UK, but what about Europe, USA, or Australia? All will have vastly different postage costs. So it doesn't work for us in collectables, or if you are selling significantly overseas (our foreign sales are around one third of turnover).

Andy • 12th December 2018 •

Buyers are not daft. We found an item increased to us and so did shipping so it needed to jump from £9.99 to £10.49. We regretted doing it but had to do it and sales dropped from 14 per day to 1 a week or fortnight. Ouch!!! We then swapped it to £9.99 and 49p shipping and sales went straight back up to the original numbers. What the buyer wants is not to be ripped off. The reason for it eBay said was a lot of sellers were loading item shipping and lowering the item cost to avoid fees. Well its not hard for eBay to band shipping costs with a maximum charge. I sold a 2nd hand leather jacket and it stipulated my maximum shipping charge so why not everything. Oh Yes i forgot Ebay started taking a cut of your shipping and tried driving everyone to free so they could definitely get the their cut. That's why. Their claims that everyone wants free shipping is like their other claims. Defects they said were because when a buyer has a negative experience on eBay they do not come back. Ok so why are two huge sellers still on the site. between them they have 4,000 poor feedbacks per year. That may be a small percentage against sales which is the old nugget eBay roll out when its mentioned. But surely that is like owning a bricks and mortar shop and employing those two as bouncers stopping 4,000 customer per year from entering (if eBay is to be believed they dont come back) so in 10 years that's 40,000 buyers shopping elsewhere. There are other big outlets with the same numbers so wow that's one hell of a lot of buyers leaving each year. But the fees from these big boys are all that eBay wants. So they are not bothered. Its not them getting stung.

Mark • 13th December 2018 •

Most of the items I sell through Ebay (Free Postage) go Royal Mail Large Letter (2nd class). The thickness of these items is around 20mm. It costs me 79p postage, which is built into the sale price. If the buyer purchases 2 items the package then becomes a small parcel and I have to then pay Royal Mail £2.95. So when this happens I loose £1.37. Ebay still takes their commission but I loose out :( I spoke to Ebay about this and they said "Just post each item seperately". What a load of nonsense - the buyer would not know why I had to do this and may think that I am some kind of idiot by not placing both of their items in the same package.

Antony • 13th December 2018 •

I'd let the buyer think I was a bit of an idiot and save money :-)

Chris Dawson • 13th December 2018 •

HI Anthony we have the same issue but we use the large letter boxes and find we can fit two of most of our large letter items in them meaning 1 post then make sure the price for 3 covers the shipping at small packet rates. eBays shipping setting are absolutely rubbish. They want accurate charges yet in a multi listing you have 3 different weight items and sizes so can only do one price shipping regardless of which the customer buys the fist may be large letter the second size not and so on. They need to allow individual item settings.

Mark • 13th December 2018 •

Let us know what the dimensions are of the items you sell and I'll see if there is a large letter format that would work for when you sell multiples. Got 5 different sizes here that get used daily and it is surprising what will fit in them. Failing that, as ebay and Chris said, just ship separately as large letters. Mark them as 1 of 2 and 2 of 2, which should avoid buyer confusion. If they do query it, just explain it is the cheapest way to send them.

Gav • 13th December 2018 •

@Antony Interesting to read what you said, last week I purchased two fast charge phone leads from a company in Luton on eBay, they would only allow you to buy one at a time but after buying the first I then purchased a 2nd. they arrived together as one item but each boxed in a large letter size box. I am guessing, as they only cost me £1.49 each they did not make a lot out of that. Both cables, loose, would have fitted into a large letter size box together.

tyler • 13th December 2018 •

The other problem with sending 2 Large Letters instead of both items in one parcel, is that they might not arrive at the same time, and you end up getting no end of messages from customers saying "I ordered 2 items, but only received one! Where's the other?"

L • 18th December 2018 •

After trying both free delivery and separate delivery in the past, i can safely say what people want is value. £10 or £8 and £2 p&p seems to make no difference. However no one wants to be working it out so we are going to go back to charging. However what we are doing is instead of charging say £2.50 p&p we will be charging £1 and putting the other £1.50 into the item price. The reason being is that we found that customs focused on the fact they thought the postage was super cheap! As has been said, they no its not free... But when they see a low price, they think the p&p is a bargain. Plus it is easy forvthey to work out... Round it to the nearest £1. This was the way that produced the best results in our trials. Don't forget that many search via 'lowest price inc p&p' already. It's about perception, not reality, and as free postage has been rumbled.... Cheap postage is the new winner!

Toby • 13th December 2018 •

Hi Chris, Mark and Gav Many thanks for your feedback. I have tried every combination of packing but unfortunately there is no way that two items can go as a Large Letter. So I guess it is best to send two parcels separately to the same buyer, which is obviously slightly more unnecessary work and in my opinion makes Ebay not look as professional to buyers as it could be. As I'm sure you know if a seller charges for postage there is an option for the seller to add an additional postage charge for additional items purchased. But with Free Postage the seller cannot charge postage for extra items purchased. If Ebay allowed for the first item purchased to have free postage and then allowed a charge for additional items purchased, then Problem Solved.

Antony • 13th December 2018 •

Hi Anthony please send an ebay link or item number to the product as we have some great methods here to ship large letter on items we never thought we could. may be able to help. Mark

Mark • 13th December 2018 •

I don't agree with an earlier comment that everyone builds the shipping/postage into the item value to get it sent FREE. We sell stamps and are limited in the prices we charge by the catalogue value of the stamps themselves. I notice years ago that some stamp sellers raised all their low price items to £2 + free postage whereas we've kept 6-7,000 £0.99 items at £0.99 and charge £1.00 postage and packing. Stamp collectors tend to buy more than one item at a time (when I buy stock on ebay I buy 40 items at a time (invoice limit) and get charged ONE £3.19 tracked shipping fee. It is outrageous to expect overseas buyers to pay increased item prices on all their purchases and state it's FREE shipping, if it's all my £0.99 items our invoices come out with 1-40 items with ONE £1.00 postage OR 1-40 items with ONE £1.45 Europe shipping OR 1-40 items with ONE £2.25 shipping for Rest of World. For the dealers who've doubled the price of their stock items to incorporate the FREE sending, their customers are paying way too much for their shopping!!

Andrea Grimmett • 13th December 2018 •

so who pays for free post and free returns with these really really extra special customers

jim • 13th December 2018 •

I bet you these people won't be happy when the clothing industry goes under and their partners/family members are out of work because no one actually wants to buy clothes anymore, but just rent them for free... I guess it makes them feel "Empowered" or something, but "cutting off your nose to spite your face" comes to mind... BBC should not be glorifying these idiots. But what do they care, they get sent money for nothing every year... I won't be selling women's clothing any time soon anyway!

Mike • 13th December 2018 •

@Mike My daughter & friends put me off selling clothing along time ago. Scares me just thinking about it....

tyler • 13th December 2018 •

aquireing goods with no intention of payment is theft pure and simple

jim • 14th December 2018 •

As a buyer, I'm not really bothered about whether postage is extra, or built into the price of the item. But as a seller I'm well aware that buyers can search for just items that have "free" postage, so all my items have included shipping for many years. For what it's worth, I've never had a complaint about not offering shipping discounts.

Nick • 13th December 2018 •