Free Shipping, Sex & Beer


To kick off Mashable Social Media Day at Boston University, Professor of Public Relations Steve Quigley identified 3 buzzwords:

Free, Sex, and Beer

Careful use of these buzzwords will cause an audience to sit up straight and briefly shift attention in your direction so the actual message can be delivered.

Here is a modified buzzword that is paramount for online sales: Free Shipping

Shipping costs can make or break the success of online product sales.  Charging too little for shipping can cause you to lose money while charging too much can prevent many potential orders from being placed.

You cannot eliminate shipping expenses but you can eliminate the distractions they cause by building the costs into the purchase price.

Building shipping costs into your purchase price is critical to selling products and here’s why:

  • Customers HATE to pay for shipping

Someone that puts a $10 CD into a shopping cart and is later informed that shipping adds another $5 will quickly reconsider the purchase.  Once prospective customers get a product in their shopping cart 71% will still end up not buying.  In addition, a Forrester Research study in 2010 showed that the biggest reason for shopping cart abandonment was because shipping and handling costs were too high. 

  • Fans LIKE paying those that are responsible for creating the things they value

Fans would much rather give $15 to the artist they love rather than $10 to them and $5 to FedEx. Even if part of that $15 is going towards shipping, the delivery of the product should be the concern of the seller and not the fans.

  • Pricing a product higher can actually cause people to value it more

“All value is perceived value,” says Ad man Rory Sutherland in his fantastic TED talk.  Pricing can have an effect on the perceived value of a product.  Making your physical release compelling and worthy of purchase over an instant download is as critical as pricing it to match the added value.  If you are charging $10 for a download and the same for the CD it might be worth rethinking the current pricing strategy.


An important resource for those seeking to lower shipping costs is Fulfillment by Amazon.  For a small monthly fee of less than $1 per cubic foot the online behemoth will store and sell your product for you while offering 2 day shipping to Amazon Prime members and free standard shipping to anyone spending over $25. Amazon has mastered the art of inexpensive and fast shipping better than all competitors. They are able to pass the savings on to those that sell through them and charge just $1 to ship each CD sold on the site.

Remember that shipping will never be free for the business but it should always be “free” for the customer. Charge your customers for what they value and stop discussing shipping costs or anything else that could potentially turn them away from buying.  By building shipping costs into the price you decrease the friction that can halt a potential purchase.

What is your current physical shipping strategy?  What is your online sales buzzword? Weigh in below with your thoughts and experiences.

Special thanks to Howard Pinsky for the Beer text.