Jamie, I think this is going to be a very interesting holiday season this year. I think there will be a big growth overall in on-line sales even though it may be lackluster year for the retail industry as a whole. There will be big winners on the Internet while one sees many have very poor sales and die in the first quarter of 2009. With the big boys playing more this year than ever before, it will be a real fight for that sale on-line for the small business. It will not be business as usual on-line.
In the last year many big players have opened on-line stores that have never been there in the past. Just check out http://www.InternetRetailer.com to see the names now showing up on-line. Several new ones daily. Most of the big guys offer free shipping or in-store pickup. I think this is a small business wake-up call.
DipLady, I do not agree with you totally. Most people shopping on-line are looking for the best deal and competition for buyers’ dollars are becoming very keen in the current market. If your competitor offers free shipping and you don’t, you may lose the deal. Free and flat rate shipping is a sales tool that is becoming very popular. I think the days of expecting shipping charges is rapidly changing. Buyers want to know the total costs up front and quickly. No hidden costs.
In looking at your web site and I noticed you charge for shipping by the total dollars they spent. This is a good start. If your goal is to sell more by charging for shipping using the dollars spent method, I would question if a simpler approach would not yield in a greater return. Your current pages cause the customer to do a lot of work to figure out the best deal. I think how you are doing it is better than ZIP code based shipping but I think there is still too much work involved.
Have you ever considered building your cost of shipping into the price of your products? For example if you sold a single product for $8.50 but you offered 3 for $15.00 (really no different in real dollars) I think buying decision would be easier for the customer to make. Remember web shoppers sometimes just spend a few seconds at your site. If you complicate getting to the bottom line or appear to have hidden costs, they will be gone. Also, I agree with you saying your $3.50 cost $5.00 to ship seems bad from the buyers perspective. In fact it might scare some off before they figure out your offer. Since you sell a gourmet product I really do not think adding them together would scare off buyers. In fact, I think they would say: “If I buy 3 I get one free with no other hidden costs!”
If you are afraid of raising your prices you may be shocked to hear that that can sometimes increase your sales volume and dollars. But that is another subject.
I realize I do not know your business and may be missing some important points, but I thought I would offer my two cents. I hope this is helpful!