Ecommerce Shopping Carts and Shipping Rates: Don’t Wait Til Checkout!

Author: Gab Goldenberg

While working on some ecommerce affiliate sites, I tried to find the ecommerce merchant’s shipping prices. Unfortunately, it’s a remarkable pain in the neck to find shipping info at most mom-n-pop ecommerce stores.

I think it’s because they place a blind reliance in their ecommerce store’s shopping cart. The problem is that the cart was usually created by a programmer – not a customer service rep. So the priorities in design were easy coding, not easy buying. As a result, lots of shopping carts cause SMBs to lose sales.

Shipping a cat

Photo credit: Dan Chace, aka Lacrymosa

Here are some examples of what not to do, and why they’re bad ideas. If the ecommerce cart you want acts this way, switch!

1) Worst idea EVER: Ask for my credit card info before telling me the shipping price.

I don’t care about/believe your reassurance the card isn’t going to be charged until I click confirm.

I don’t know you. And your site looks like a 4 year old made it.

Quality graphics build trust – this is a well-known finding in survey after survey and usability test after test, as to what consumers use to gauge a site’s trustworthiness.

Asking for card information before telling me what shipping is going to cost would never even occur to someone offline. Imagine you go into a used car dealership and the salesman says, “give me your credit card info, then I’ll tell you the price!” – No thanks!

2) Aggravating, close second: Delay presenting shipping rate information until I get to the page where I type my shipping info.

While this may be logical, it assumes two things, incorrectly:

a) First, that I’m going to add to cart and go through a step or two in the process without knowing the total price. That’s almost the same as above.
b) Second, that you can’t just include a simple shipping calculator on product detail pages. It just needs to ask the Zip code and return a price. Simple database job that doesn’t cost more than $100 to program.

3) Third worst idea: Making money off shipping.

Yes, lots of people do it online. No, most consumers won’t find out. Buuuuuuuut…

What happens when you get caught cheating customers on shipping?

I’m not the first affiliate to create a price comparison site. Heaven knows there’s lots of them around.
It doesn’t cost much to have a virtual assistant browse the web and do the legwork to find product prices and shipping rates.
And affiliates, including myself, are increasingly SEO savvy, as well as usability savvy.

What happens is that you end up with a reputation management problem that costs you sales of that product. How?
People click on the price comparison result in Google and find you’re more expensive.
Guess who gets the sale?

If it happens frequently enough or blatantly enough, you develop a bad reputation and word gets around. Then you don’t just lose sales on that one product, but across the board. Ouch.

So think long term, rather than trying to take in a few extra bucks at [what turns out to be] your own expense.

A) Excellent approach: For low-ticket items (e.g. below ~$200), offer flat rate shipping countrywide, or statewide/provincewide. Present shipping rates in a chart. If you need to adjust a few dimes/dollars upwards for states further away, you can do so.

This isn’t ‘making money on shipping’ – it’s increasing convenience to customers. You can explain it, and people will understand. Consumers aren’t against profit, they’re against abuse.

Takeaway tips on ecommerce shopping carts and shipping rate information:

1) Offer shipping information on the detail page.
2) If possible, offer flat-rate shipping nationwide. Otherwise, you can present state-by-state (or province-by-province, in Canada) shipping rates in a table. Figure out your average price to ship to that state and use it.
3) If the order is large enough and you can afford it, upgrade the shipping so it gets to customers faster than expected. Amazon is famous for this practice – which they preferred over TV ads – and look how well it’s helped them do.

If you liked this post on ecommerce usability and conversion optimization, add my rss feed to your reader! Also, check out this post on ranking splash pages.

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  1. Some great points here Gabriel, it is all about user experience and usability. Attracting the visitor is the easy part, the hard part is selling, especially with todays extremely high usability standards that customers expect, wrong color button - you lost your customer, no shipping information - you lost your customer, too complicated payment process - you lost your customer etc. Regards, Arturas

    Comment by Arturas Kvederis - June 24, 2010 @ 3:36am
  2. Yes it frustrates me when customer service representative gets my credit card information first before giving the price. I believe that it has something to do with the spiel they needed. For QA purposes I think, they need to get the credit card information first. The downside on this one is that, some customer agents are not honest enough since they would place an order to our credit cards eventhough we didn't get their product.

    Comment by Jamie Barclay - June 24, 2010 @ 8:47pm

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