Most online shoppers (including myself) agree that shipping costs are the devil’s work.
These additional charges stop many a potential customer from following through with their purchases: 86 percent of online shoppers, in fact, cite “cost of shipping” as their main reason for abandoning digital shopping carts.
But then, companies must charge for shipping — in one way or another — to make a profit: Transportation costs are currently rising at an exponential rate, and many businesses simply can’t afford to foot the bill for their customers. Of course, select retailers will attempt to take advantage of shipping costs — like the third-party seller on Amazon who recently charged a woman $7,455 to ship less than $90-worth of toilet paper — but overcharging for shipping will almost inevitably result in lost business in time.
All of which poses the question: Why do we hate paying shipping costs so much in the first place? According to L.A.-based psychologist and psychotherapist Jeanette Raymond, it has to do with feeling like we’ve been tricked into paying them.
“Part of it is the feeling that we’ve been duped,” Raymond explains. “We’ve already shelled out what we thought the total cost was, and then we get hit with this ‘extra’ cost that ruins the experience. We gave them the business, so they should provide the shipping. This is the tacit agreement we have in our heads, which makes us resent shipping costs as a bitter, unfair pill to swallow.” Basically, as far as the consumer is concerned, shipping costs are the administrative fees of the online shopping world.
This hatred becomes even stronger when we realize that we’re essentially paying to wait (sometimes for weeks at a time) for the product to arrive at our doorstep, when we could have simply stopped by the store to pick up the product immediately without paying that extra charge (not that we would actually do that, of course). This also explains why Amazon Prime is so popular: You receive free two-day shipping on most items and free two-hour delivery in certain areas. But of course, free shipping for you isn’t free shipping for Amazon, and they make up for those costs (and apparently even more) by charging that $99 annual fee for Prime.
There’s also our blind attraction to anything marked with the word “free” to consider. This attraction explains why we’re willing to spend $15 on a product that comes with “free” shipping, while we’re hesitant to spend $12 on a product that comes with a $3 shipping charge. The phrase “free shipping” essentially takes advantage of what marketing professionals call the reciprocity principle, which argues that consumers tend to return the favor when companies throw them a bone (or at least, appear to be throwing them a bone). It’s proven by science, too: A 2005 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that feeling obligated to spend more money, “can occur despite the fact that we may never have requested the favor in the first place.”
Put more simply, when consumers are gifted “free shipping” — which, in reality, is often folded into the price of the item(s) — they’re more likely to purchase more stuff. And that’s why, according to a recent survey, 88 percent of online shoppers believe that free shipping is more persuasive than easy returns or same-day shipping.
Finally, Raymond argues that many online shoppers have some form of buyer’s privilege (since the customer is always right). “Another part of us expects that the seller would be so grateful for our business that they wouldn’t demean us by asking for shipping costs,” she says. “We feel we’ve already paid, and this additional cost … sours the elation of getting a good bargain.”
Short version: We’re all a bunch of entitled suckers. Who could’ve guessed?!