The Free Shipping Sweet Spot

Wrangling our free shipping program into shape.

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On All Hallow’s Eve, 2013, we announced “free shipping for all orders $60 and up worldwide!” At the time of the announcement, we gave ourselves a big escape hatch stating that the program is “firmly open-ended, and the rules and program may change as we evaluate the cost to us and the benefit to you, but for now, happy shipping, and happy Halloween!”

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We considered a dog delivery option, but had drool issues.

Six months later we have given away $500,000 in free shipping, and, well…we can’t sustain the program in its current form. At the rate of $1M a year - yeah - we aren’t that phat.

What we have been unwilling to do is have a free shipping program that is the equivalent of a shell game, whereby we pay for the program by passing the cost on top of our product pricing or our express shipping options (or other clever subsidy program). We want to offer free shipping, where we can reasonably afford it, because people just need a free option, where one can exist.

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Effective starting on Monday, May 12th, 2014, we are amending our free shipping program to include a free shipping option on all domestic orders, $75 and over. Based on current calculations and Bat Computer analysis, we hope this is the sweet spot that SparkFun can afford and that gives real value to our customers. We looked around the playground and we think our free shipping program is still the best around, for companies not called Amazon. We estimate that this program will still cost us about $250,000 a year, which hurts. We will feel that hit in every way. We also are tickled pink at the idea that thousands of orders every year will have a free shipping option.

For those of you who loved having free shipping on international orders, we understand this will sting a bit. Please take a look at our distro page here. We have a good amount of international distros who can ship locally in their respective countries.

Post amble: We do and must reserve the right to amend our free shipping program in the future. We are making this up as we go. Some of this we have been good at forecasting, some of it, not so much. It turns out that it’s actually not sustainable to send 20 big stepper motors from Colorado to Australia for free. Hmmmm.


Comments 89 comments

  • I’m pretty poor (graduate student), but I am willing to pay shipping on products I can’t get anywhere else from a company unlike any other I’ve worked with. Point being, free shipping is cool and all, but why don’t you guys spend that 250k on something else? Maybe hand out some raises, better healthcare, add more R and D etc.

    Alternatively, you could give a 50% discount on shipping ($5 shipping instead of $10). That would probably make people happy and save some money on your end.

    • I agree with this guy ^. I’d rather pay my share of shipping and have SparkFun use that money towards either the employees, cool new projects, or (my favorite) more Education/outreach projects.

    • I love the free shipping, granted, but reasonable shipping costs are much more important to me. My personal sweet spot is around $4 for light packages (more for heavy stuff like the mentioned stepper motors). The closer you can get to that, the better, and I am happy to give up free shipping altogether.

      • +1 - I would order from SF more often if it didn’t feel like I was always paying more for shipping than for parts.

        It would be super cool eventually to be able to order something and pick it up for free at a local distributor, after it ships to them with their other periodic goods - thought that vision does not account for distributor markups

    • I agree with this sentiment. Maybe in addition to the free shipping option, have the option for the same shipping, only paid. I don’t know how many people would choose that option, but it might be interesting to track to see how many people would rather support Sparkfun than get free shipping (kind of an easy way to “donate” to Sparkfun).

      Maybe you could phrase it as a “support Sparkfun” shipping option ;)

      If you do implement this, please consider having a method of reporting (even if only periodically) how many people “opted out” of free shipping vs. how many people took it. I think it would be a really interesting statistic.

    • Yea, I miss the economy shipping being actually cheap and not $10. I cant justify spending $7 on a few parts I need only to pay another $10 in shipping. Needless to say I haven’t ordered anything for a long while.

    • Perhaps SparkFun did the math - but the $5 shipping discount at x$ and Free or reduced at x+y$ would allow orders at $50 to get reduced shipping when the Upsell to $75 was too much or meant waiting to order (Impulse versus Upsell).

      If you ran your Numbers on TWO days “ARDUINO DAY” and the “LAST FALL’s Cyber Monday STAGGERED” sales day, versus all the rest - I’m sure you’ll see different numbers and distributions. I made two orders on Arduino day and FOUR on CYBER day - and all shipped for free. Those two AWESOME sales of TWO days probably neared a normal month’s volume and probably even higher percentage of the free shipping - that would be part of the cost of the sale day. The Staggered Cyber timing REALLY invited free shipping orders.

  • Sparkfun, thank you for being awesome! We appreciate you guys being open and communicative about these kinda things! I am sure that it just means we will have to buy more in bulk from you guys!

    Thanks!

    • That’s what I was going to say.. I wish more businesses were more like Sparkfun. As someone who used to be partial owner in a small company (way smaller than Sparkfun) it’s cool to see them expose the innards of operating a small company that most people dont understand.

      As for the free shipping.. For me, that just means having to buy $15 more stuff to be able to brag to my wife about how much I “saved” :-)

  • I don’t mind paying for shipping, specially if it help fund more “According to Pete"s.

    But let’s say I qualify for free-shipping, how about adding an option to donate to the EFF or some such instead, and let me pay for the shipping anyway. I.e. Choose Free Shipping or SparkFun donates to some charity.

    • What is the point? Why don’t you just go donate to the EFF or whatever charity directly if it’s so important to you? It seems like a roundabout method of donating, unless your ultimate plan is to give SF a way to claim the donation on their taxes.

      • The point would be to make it easier to donate. When it is less hassle to donate, more people donate. Time has a cost.

    • Yeah, how about an option to opt OUT of free shipping?

      • That’s the same sentiment I mentioned above (before I saw your comment).

        Definitely would be a good indicator how support for Sparkfun.

    • That’s a neat idea. I’ll at least bring up the general concept to some folks. (ficklelope can maybe comment as to whether it’d be a total financial nightmare to implement.)

      • Heck, I’d be willing to pay for shipping even if it just went toward someone else’s free shipping. I’m an engineer, earning a comfortable salary, and I don’t mind paying a $10 shipping charge to help some broke high school student get ahold of some hardware. I wouldn’t demand verification of where the money goes; I would simply hope it might do some good elsewhere even if it’s just someone who isn’t willing to pay S&H. For the greater good (the greater good.)

        • Honestly, you’d be doing something better if you went to the local high school and FOUND that broke student and gave him some of your old hardware, or better yet, an hour of your time. Making the SF buying process more complicated, figuring out who to charge what for “shipping”, and then where to send that “shipping donation” is not worth anyones time or effort when you can donate to charity yourself.

          Dont know where to go? Find a local boy scout troop and offer to be an electronics merit badge counselor, or offer to buy them a couple of SF simon kits or a soldering kit or something.. Keep SF checkout process clean and easy..

          • I hear you, and you make a very valid point, but I counter with the following: I’m far more lazy than cheap. Am I going to go seek out a student, or volunteer at a local school, or put up a Craigslist posting for my old hardware? Eh, probably not. But if I’m ordering from SparkFun and have the shipping options of “free shipping,” “ground,” “next day,” or “pay someone else’s shipping,” I would probably go for it. No real added complexity on the front end, just another radio button.

            • How about a separate item. kind of like PayPal does during checkout.. A separate line item for “Would you like to donate $x to y”.. That way, it’s not artificially tied to the concept of “shipping”.

              • I’ll defer to people with more marketing knowledge than I have, but I suspect if you ask someone to donate to “somewhere,” they’re not going to be as receptive as if you ask for their help on a specific thing. A donation that goes somewhere else is all well and good, but asking someone to defer their free shipping and give it to someone else feels like a very tangible thing to the user. “I’m not helping The Cause, I’m helping a person. Someone else will be sitting at the checkout screen just like I am, and will get free shipping because of my help. Oh how I remember the good old days when I was a broke student programming Z80s by candlelight with a programmer I made myself, using electrons I grew by hand…” Maybe it’s just my psychology, which is questionable to begin with.

  • Lets also remember that some companies have amazingly also never posted a profit in say 20 years (AMZN). I’d much rather you be around than not serving the community over some free shipping that’s running you aground.

    Cheers to you.

  • I hope people understand this and don’t start a flame war in the comments. I hope people understand that when your shipping cost is higher than the profit on the material being shipped, it’s only a matter of time before you have to close your doors.

  • Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to pay for plastic bag waterproofing and use the dog?

    • I have two dogs I’ll donate.. but make sure you never talk in a mean tone about missed deliveries or they’ll pee all over your shipping department..

      • This is why dogs are not allowed in our shipping department :). Besides they get really tired doing the international deliveries.

  • From my Arduino Day order (my first and only so far), my total was already pretty darn close to 75$ so I’m not gonna boo hoo over the changes if it helps the company hit their sweet spot. Heck, I still make order from Miniature Market and they don’t offer Free Shipping until over 99$.

    Keep up the good work guys, the transparency and communication here is primo and worth adding a few bucks to an order.

  • Nice to see the option staying, sparkfun being open about why it’s changing, and having the option only slightly change

  • I would like to suggest another improvement: If the order value is less than $75, but the shipping would increase it above $75, then cap the total payment at $75. This is a Win-Win situation:
    In the current rules, a customer wants to order $74 worth of items, but the shipping is $10.
    Customer adds a $2 item. Result:

    1. SF just got $76 for $76 worth of items instead of $84 for $74 worth of items.
    2. Customer just paid $76 instead of $75 and maybe got a $2 item he didn’t really want.
    3. Customer just wasted 15 frustrating minutes just to decide which $2 item is the least useless for him.
    4. Customer’s international order just passed the $75 mark, triggering VAT payment when he gets it (Israel VAT threshold on packages is $75 :-( ).

    Under the new suggestion:
    Customer places $74 item in the cart.
    Shipping cost is usually $10, but the total cost will be capped to $75.
    Custom declaration form on box will be $74.

  • Here is my scenario: I want to be able to browse, find one or two small items and buy them on an impulse.

    If I knew that “anything which can fit in a U.S.P.S. package (insert actual name here) is $3” it would be another weekly purchase done. I would be willing to add $3 to even the very smallest “exact thing” I want and knowing that “a few” can fit in that same $3 shipping, I will browse a bit more.

    After that I don’t think it has to be free shipping, but again some flat $10 for what fits in a “standard SparkFun shipping box of love.”

    In my opinion you should invest the $250K into figuring out new and innovative ways to safely, quickly and tightly pack almost everything you ship into a few standard sizes that we can understand. It works with popcorn at the movies, I think people can understand a few sizes. Then that one year return on that quarter million will benefit all of us year after year.

    • Yes yes yes! This is really what we want to do. This is what we are striving for. More on this tomorrow when its not past my bed time. But yes! This is what we are talking about and working on at SparkFun. Versions of this idea, at least. Simplified. Cheaper. Yeesssssss.

  • Shame the free international shipping is gone. The local distributors here in aus are hopeless. Always out of stock, and don’t carry much.

  • I’m disappointed. I had hoped that your announcement was going to be the opposite: to reduce the free-shipping threshold. Yes, if you have to, this “free” shipping could and should be baked into the price of the products, especially those that are bulky or heavy.

    The problem is that you guys miss the point about what “free” shipping does from the customer’s buying perspective. Though the buyer may end up spending the same amount of money in the end, due to this “shell game” as you put it, it encourages “impulse purchases” because the buyer doesn’t feel the need to consolidate purchases just to save on shipping. It also means that people visit your site more often to buy goods – keeping your company in the active memory of your buyers. In effect, “free” shipping isn’t all about the bottom line, it’s about the side effects as well. This is the genius of Amazon Prime.

    The excuse about disliking the “shell game” of baking shipping costs into the products is naive, and despite the “honesty” it doesn’t earn you much good will. We all know what the real prices are; you’re just losing out on extra sales. Maybe it’d make a difference if your prices were substantially less sans shipping charges, where we’d actually care about a price increase. Or maybe if most of the products you sold were extremely rare or exclusive. In both cases, however, the answer is a “no”. Your products are found much cheaper (even including shipping) from places like Amazon, online Hong Kong sites, Digikey and Mouser – and even Adafruit, who doesn’t charge an outrageous $1.50 per breakaway header. Nor are your shipping charges all that reasonable to begin with. A whole $4 to ship a $3 break-out board with no ESD components on it via USPS first class mail? Give me a break.

    So let’s face it: you need all the help you can get. Your competition has far more resources at their disposal, a selection that nearly matches or exceeds your own, much better prices, and greater mindshare as people use them as the go-to shop. You don’t want to become the BestBuy of the internet where people go to see the reviews and then go to Amazon or somewhere else to actually buy the product.

    You really ought to be decreasing the threshold of free shipping so that people buy stuff more often from SFE. Increase the prices of expensive-to-ship items, or exclude them from the free shipping deal if you have to. What matters is that people want to buy from your site rather than the alternatives.

    • You are of course entitled to your opinion - but personally I’d much rather know what I’m paying for. Baking shipping costs into product prices can seem like a nice idea, but it can end up costing the customer more depending on their order - especially on large multiples of cheaper products. Besides, having SparkFun’s guys running around behind the scenes figuring out break-even points and average sales quantities for all their products only ends up taking them more time - and costing me more than if they were just upfront about costs. I’d rather know how much shipping is and pay less than be blind about it and pay more - but maybe that’s just me.

      I live in Australia - and know very little about what postage within the US usually costs - but I could only dream that shipping a $3 component would cost $4 to get to me. As someone who frequently orders from both SparkFun and Adafruit, I like to think I have a good feel for postage costs from both companies. In the past, my orders from AdaFruit, although smaller in both size and weight, have always cost me more in postage. In addition to this, SparkFun have (IMO) a much wider range of original products. I love AdaFruit - but I’ve always found my orders from SparkFun to be better value. Maybe it’s different within the US, but for me at least SparkFun seem to be doing pretty well shipping wise - I even order AdaFruit products from them when they have them, because it works out cheaper for me if I’m also ordering other stuff!

      You compare SparkFun to companies such as Digikey and Mouser - but these are very different types of businesses, at least in my understanding. You seem to be confusing distributors such as Digikey and Mouser with a retailer and developer (for lack of a better term - manufacturer doesn’t really imply any development or research, and is perhaps a different scope to what SparkFun is) such as SparkFun - the difference being in the roles they are supposed to play. Or course buying resistors will be cheaper at these other companies - that’s what they’re for! That’s all they do, and those are the only costs they have! SparkFun doesn’t aim to directly compete with them, because what would the point of that be? As you have said, they’re cheaper - and they’re firmly entrenched, can afford to order huge bulk from manufacturers, and have much lower overheads. SparkFun, as a retailer, sell products that are either more specialised or harder to come by. Sure, they have plenty of products you could find elsewhere too - but those are often here as an accessory to something else. As a developer, they design and manufacture their own unique products - products that you can’t find elsewhere. I don’t image that this is a cheap process - and it’s certainly not a cost that these distributors have to factor in.

      On top of this, SparkFun runs extensive education and outreach programs - I know nothing about what Digikey or Mouser might do in this arena, but if they were matching SparkFun I’d be very surprised indeed.

      I certainly don’t think SparkFun need all they help they can get. If their shipping costs are $1M per year - and that, if my understanding being correct, is only for the orders above $60 that qualified for free shipping - clearly they do pretty well sales wise. Hobbyist electronics is as popular as ever, and SparkFun have a wide range of unique products that I either couldn’t source elsewhere, or that they have themselves designed. I’d say they’re pretty well positioned.

      I’m not sure why you think SparkFun should make pricing more obscure for customers - but their honesty certainly does earn my good will, and judging from the other comments here, plenty of other people appreciate it too.

      Sure, I’m annoyed that I won’t qualify for free shipping on my international orders anymore - but to be honest, I often end up going for one of the faster shipping options that have tracking, and these usually cost so much that I don’t see how SparkFun could possibly make them free for me anyway. If I order $100 worth of small products I expect to pay around $40 shipping - that you complain about $4 postage honestly makes me a little bit jealous.

      Anyway, thanks for the heads up SparkFun - you can expect plenty more orders from me in future!

    • what in the world are you talking about? do you understand that when a company charges you for shipping, it’s not just the cost of buying postage, it’s also the cost of having someone go to a warehouse, find that header you want so badly, put it in a baggie, put that baggie in a package, and make sure it gets to USPS? There’s a reason it’s called shipping and handling.

      And… I hate you break it to you, but Amazon Prime isn’t free shipping either. Or did you forget about that $79 you had to pay upfront (which is now $99)… Or the part where they do exactly what SFE doesn’t want to - charge more for Prime items than non prime items, effectively baking the added cost in, removing the option to optimize orders?

      And finally, as an owner of a business that has to deal with darling customers such as yourself, I’ll say the thing I always want to but can’t - if the competition is so much better than SFE, by all means - keep buying from them, and don’t poo all over these guys' forums. All you’re doing by posting this here is trying to show how smart you are… and ultimately failing.

      • Sorry, but the guy has a point. The S&H game has always been a pet peeve of mine as well. Go look on eBay and watch em play it. A small inexpensive item, sold by A for $1…. with $5 in shipping charges vs vendor B for $3.50 with free shipping. A is trying to show up first on a sort by price listing.

        Free shipping on orders over $X is just another variant of the minimum order game and trying to hide it. And as they found out, customers will game the system right back and order heavy items and get free shipping.

        This site might do a small retail trade but mostly it sells mail order. Meaning that when they display a product to a customer, the customer really needs to know how much it will cost to put it into their hand, not some fuzzy price that will vary an unknowable amount when they get to checkout. Walmart also has shipping (they pay for a whole series of warehouses and own their own trucking company) and stocking expenses plus they have to pay for clerks at the register yet they can display a fixed price and do not need to have a cover charge or a per sale fee. And so does every tiny brick and morter Mom & Pop retailer.

        Basic shipping by the minimum method plus ‘handling’ charges really need to be baked into the displayed pricing since nobody is buying the item and not getting it delivered. SFE already has the software setup to show price by quantity so that argument against it is already dealt with. One header that they pay $0.03 for (in quantity) might have to be $1.00 for the first one to cover somebody going and getting it and putting it in a first class envelope. But the quantity break could be really good.

        Or bite the bullet, be honest, and have a minimum order or per order processing fee.

        Or a compromise would be to just include the handling charges into the price shown and charge actual shipping as shown on the standard commercial UPS rate chart. (Or as close as the software can estimate based on what it knows about weight and dimensions, your location, hazard fees, etc.; and if it rounds up a little that is OK.) Most customers would then have a really good handle on how much an item will cost as they add it to the cart and what adding more will do to the final invoice. That would get the best of both worlds, especially with the level of International shipping they do.

  • Hate to tell you this, but I usually don’t spend more than $75 at once. I place small orders and honestly, I would place more if not for shipping cost. But, I seriously doubt that sipping cost you 1M each year. Probably does on face value, but given some of your other prices, i.e. $.95 for a single transistor or $1.50 for a 40 pin male header, I suspect you are making up your cost in other ways. There have been several times I’ve placed something in my cart and then not competed checkout due to shipping cost. Any increases will most likely affect your volume, so you may want to rethink your decision. In any case, your normal shipping rates are not cheep by any stretch of the imagination. If I were to buy a single Arduino and used UPS or FedEx, you’d charge $12+ for shipping. I can get it elsewhere for less than $6 for UPS shipping. In other words, you are making up you free shipping on small orders and I bet your calculations didn’t include it. What you really mean is you didn’t make profit as much as you could not that free shipping cost you 1M.

    • In other words, you are making up you free shipping on small orders and I bet your calculations didn’t include it. What you really mean is you didn’t make profit as much as you could not that free shipping cost you 1M.

      Cost can be a tricky word. Howsabout we put it like this: Free shipping as it stood was looking like (approximately) a million fewer dollars in revenue than we would have gotten without free shipping.

      I suppose you can believe that we’re lying when we say this:

      What we have been unwilling to do is have a free shipping program that is the equivalent of a shell game, whereby we pay for the program by passing the cost on top of our product pricing or our express shipping options (or other clever subsidy program).

      …and all I can really say is, well, we’re not. We certainly talked about adjusting product pricing to compensate for the reduction in shipping revenue, but it didn’t wind up looking like a good idea. (Probably because it’s not.)

      Edit: Just for good measure:

      sparkfun=> select sum(ot.value) from orders_total ot where ot.class = 'ot_shipping' and date_created between '2013-01-01' and '2013-05-01';
           sum     
      -------------
       990928.9500
      
      sparkfun=> select sum(ot.value) from orders_total ot where ot.class = 'ot_shipping' and date_created between '2014-01-01' and '2014-05-01';
           sum     
      -------------
       668955.6300
      

      …keeping in mind we’ve had more orders this year for that 5 month span than we did last.

      • Ditto on what Brennen said. In my mind when I said “we’re not that phat” I was trying to imply that, yeah, we do make money on the stuff we sell.. but we don’t make enough money that we can afford to make 1M less on shipping. In fact (and again, you’ll have to either assume this is truthful or not), we offer our shipping at a break even. We aim for shipping revenue to just cover shipping cost… so, with this program, our shipping revenue was on track to take in 1M less than our shipping cost. Here is a disclosure bomb: we do make a bottom line profit… even if we spend 1M more than we take in on shipping, we still have a positive profit. [How much profit is acceptable for a company like ours? That is for another blog post.. I’d love to have the discussion but it could end up just being a polarizing conversation that doesn’t provide much good.]

      • I stick by what I said, My bet is that your margins on about every thing you sale more than make up for your shipping cost. I didn’t call you a liar, I just think your numbers are only part of the story and have little meaning. Seriously, you should watch your tone when replying to customers.

      • Yet, what do you earn when those of us go to Amazon.com or DealExtreme, or just Mouser/Digikey (for much better bulk prices), and find nearly all your products there? Will you just be a show-room website?

        Also, you guys don’t have to offer free shipping on every item on your site. Adding it to orders that involve cheap-to-ship items like breakout boards at lower might be the answer. Even then, as Member #515294 mentions, you charge some outrageous prices for components that should be much cheaper to begin with. It’s hard to have much sympathy for your shipping charges in such cases.

        • Since nobody else replied to this, I’ll go ahead. Like Rich said in the bottom of this blog post - we may very well change the way our shipping works again - taking into account exactly what you mention (product weight/size). It just wasn’t something we could implement at the drop of a hat with all the other things we have going on.

          We’ll never be able to have competitive prices on components, and if you’re out to buy 500 green LEDs, we’re not who you’ll want to go to. I think we’ve been pretty straight-forward with saying that we want some of the most commonly used components to be available more for convenience (adding a single 35 cent LED you need to the order you’re already making here could still be cheaper than buying the LED for 5 cents elsewhere) than anything. We obviously have to buy them from elsewhere, have them shipped and then stored here, pay the people handling them, and occasionally ship out replacements for free when one arrives broken - something which is not free. We’ll never be able to come even close to competing with Mouser and Digikey, nor do we want to. The volumes they operate with is in a different dimension than us.

          Hope this doesn’t sound like a cop-out. We do listen to what people think, and obviously we want to make as many customers happy as we possibly can, because that’s what keeps the company alive.

          • I think this is a healthy way of looking at the point of your business. You strive to have the parts for smaller hobby or school projects, which can draw from a wide variety of needed parts, rather than a wholesaler standpoint of selling 2,000 LED’s. Prices are naturally going to be higher for that.

            I admit I am less hit by shipping prices, given that I normally pick mine up locally, but its very nifty that you’re trying to be transparent as to the reasons that you are making these changes.

            • Look mouser and several other places like jameco sell leds and other components in quantities of one without jacking the price up, so what your saying is non-sense. Try this link http://www.superbrightleds.com/. LEDS for a third less than sparkfun sales them for and in quanities of one. But it’s other things too. For example $10 for a prototype shield you have to put together. You really think that protoshield cost Sparkfun anywhere near $10. I just bought a JST connector soldered on a little piece of pcb and it cost $4 dollars. There’s some huge margins in a lot that Sparkfun sales, so the poor mouthing over shipping seems to me a little disingenuous.

              I’m not trying to make war on Sparkfun. Glad it is available and every Friday one of the first things I do is see what new goodies are available. But I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid either.

        • Well, talking about www.dx.com yes they offer cool innovative gadgets with low price and free shipping worldwide. Seems like Hongkong or Taiwan company but not clearly stated. They shipped through Sweden Postal and also provide order tracking. They even separate my orders into several shipments. On the package it is written as “Gift”. On custom declaration they declared how many items in it with lower value. I bought an IP Camera which costs $45 and it is written $3.91. Maybe SparkFun should learn how they work on free shipping. But I think it is kind of cheating customs and having low-cost shipment which the company can covered. Yes, we international buyers should consider shipping cost because some parts are getting more expensive with shipping cost and not worth buying.

    • Economies of scale. Batch your orders and shipping will be less. Choose USPS and shipping will be less.

      SparkFun quotes $11.89 for UPS Ground. Mouser quotes $7.99 for UPS Ground. Adafruit quotes $7.71 for UPS Ground. UPS quotes $7.49 for UPS Ground. UPS charges an additional $5.65 per label for pickup service. There is a discrepancy here, but it’s not likely due to SparkFun trying to pull a fast one over on you. Like any volume shipper, SparkFun negotiates their rates with UPS. It’s quite likely, too, that SparkFun doesn’t carry all of their packages directly to a UPS location, so the negotiated rate will probably include costs for pickup services. These negotiated rates may be skewed in UPS’s favor.

  • I have no problem with a reasonable size, weight and dollar value cutoff for free shipping orders. I feel bad sometimes ordering low cost products from stores that I like with free shipping. Its hard to believe that there is enough margin on a pro-mini to cover having someone put it in a box and send it out, never mind the UPS fees.

  • I Know I’m a bit late to the party here. First I’d like to say I have no problem paying for shipping or having a minimum order quantity for free shipping. I understand it is the cost of doing business.

    I just wonder how the Chinese vendors can ship a $1.00 cable or part with free shipping and not lose money.

  • Wow, who knew shipping would generate this much interest? I’ll just toss in one thought, which you probably already thought of–having lived overseas a couple years, I know how much fun it is to fill out the customs forms, and how much time it adds. Is there a sweet spot on international shipping/APO/FPO that makes it worth that time? (I always bundled just because it seemed silly to fill out forms for one part. At least that’s what I told myself.)

  • The free-shipping to the east coast through UPS (the absolute worst courier in the world, btw) takes well over a week and a half -and that’s when they don’t screw anything up. I get packages from Hong Kong in less time than that. However, by using the United States Postal Service (USPS) priority mail (which seems to be cheaper for whomever is paying for it), only takes two days to arrive. Most of my orders average $12 through UPS if I have to pay for shipping, while the average for USPS is around $7. So, due to the extremely long shipping time and my absolute hatred of UPS, I’m more inclined to just pay the $7 for USPS priority mail, regardless of any free shipping perk, -unless of course I’m watching my pennies extremely closely. The added benefits are two fold; First I don’t have to deal with UPS and second, I get my order in two days, rather than two weeks… I wish Sparkfun’s free shipping included USPS, as I’d be more inclined to purchase from Sparkfun rather than Adafruit…

  • I love that you guys are always working on ways to give back and make your products more affordable without giving away the farm.

    Haters gonna hate. Keep up the great work!

  • Free international shipping on large orders was the only standard feature of your store above others, eg, ServoCity (which has a larger Actobotics range). I did enjoy free shipping on my $1800 of orders while it lasted. A free or discount option for international orders over $400 would have been nice (which was above the last price point to get free UPS Saver shipping).

    • Free international shipping on large orders was the only standard feature of your store above others

      We offered it for all of six months after a decade+ in business, so I like to think that its absence won’t totally undermine the whole business model. I mean, I’ve kept houseplants alive longer than that.

      Still, you’re quite right it was a competitive advantage, or at least it would be if we could afford it. The whole thing represents a problem we’re going to have to work on.

  • I’m going to translate this so that some of the idol worshippers out there will get a clue. Arduino day cost more than the company expected, so they dug around looking for places to make up the cost. Bingo! Shipping! Now can we please go get back to some sense of sanity on this topic. I for one don’t want to pay a RED cent more than I have to.

  • I am happy to pay reasonable shipping costs, and understand that while shipping an arduino shield, or some small part is cheap, big motors aren’t. So, feel free to return us to paid shipping, BUT make it reasonable (i.e. shipping should not double+ the cost of items). I’d rather you used the $250k to keep bringing us awesomely cool things, collaborating with folks like adafruit, etc. That being said if you really feel the need, make the shipping a reduced rate on big orders (or not grow linearly with the cost of the order, etc)

  • Come on, the markup is huge on a lot of the things Sparkfun sales, You people must not like your money or something. Sparkfun says they are going to charge you more and you’re happy? Bullocks. SPARKFUN IS NOT DOING YOU A FAVOR SELLING YOU PRODUCTS. YOU ARE DOING THEM A FAVOR BY BUYING THEM. That’s the way business works. Well may be not In Muriburi Land.

  • I have both personal and company accounts, and the company account is from petty cash. I like the idea of pay shipping for all CORPORATE accounts, and keep the free shipping for personal accounts. As others have said I think opt in is the best way to go!.

  • Have you thought about using a program like ShopRunner? They offer free 2-day shipping on most items from their member companies. I’m a member, just for NewEgg, and it pays for itself yearly. Caveat I have no idea how their business model works, and if it would even benefit Sparkfun financially. Just something to consider, as I love that program.

    • +1 on this idea. I think American Express members get a free membership to ShopRunner, anyways.

    • Huh, interesting. We haven’t. We might eventually look at that kind of thing, although judging by ShopRunner’s site, I’m not sure our abs are chiseled enough. ;)

      We’re working on doing some more fundamental stuff to cut down on rates and shipping overhead, which is I think probably what we’ll focus on for the next while. A lot of comments in this thread suggest more complicated variations on our current pricing scheme, but the more we’ve talked about that sort of thing, the more it seems like our existing options are too complicated.

  • So how much did your sales increase during this period? Did you have a $750K increase in profit from sales as a result of your $500K expense? The bottom line purpose of free shipping is to increase sales. Now, if you didn’t see the increase you hoped for, then cutting back on the program makes sense.

    When I shop on a site with a free shipping option I first see how much stuff I REALLY want to buy there… If I’m very close to a free shipping cutoff I might grab a few cheap things I don’t really care about to push me over the edge… but if I’m still far away, then I’ll either wait until I might want more things (possibly months later) or simply shop elsewhere. Because honestly, as others have pointed out your prices are not that great and sometimes downright awful, particularly on tools and components. On breakout boards and things like that I can’t complain about you charging whatever you want, but to be honest my Arduino day order was my first order here in a LONG time. People seem to love you guys, and I appreciate the videos and tutorials and all that, but I don’t quite get the “charge us whatever you want, we love you guys!” attitude that some people exhibit. You’re a business not a charity, so I don’t get why some people seem so anxious to throw money at you, but hey I guess you found your market. It still amazes me that you all sold dead microcontrollers a couple of years ago when you got scammed by a supplier who shipped you slugs, and people actually bought them “for a little slice of history”. Go figure.

  • Just write a messaging app & sell it to Facebook for $19 billion. $500,000 problem solved.

  • The only thing I remember from the free shipping deal is that it cost me 50$ of duty taxes when I got my package from fedex/purolator!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I now pay the normal ~6$ of USPS. Lesson learned.

    • The gamble of duty taxes… I don’t mind paying taxes, but companies like Fedex charge something like 15-20 euros ‘handling costs’ on top of that, that is what makes it so expensive. Sparkfun should have a European office somewhere, charge us some VAT and “send it from an EU country”. I know you have distributors here, but they have hardly all the stuff you have, especially the new breakout boards for example.

  • As a New Zealander, thanks for offering it as long as you did. And thanks for the warning, so I could buy the robot chassis I’ve been eyeing up with free shipping.

  • I say: Whatever works is fine by me. Keep on Sparkfuning!

  • You may want to update the graphic on the front page that still offers free shipping on $60 orders. ;)

    • Well, they did say “Effective starting on Monday, May 12th, 2014” - so the banner is still valid, for now. Reminder to change it when Monday comes around can’t hurt, though :) ( there’s also no mention of time zone, so even then.. )

      • Realistically we’ll probably roll out the change (which includes updates to both the business logic and the banner etc.) sometime in the morning. Let’s say 10:30ish MDT. We roll deploys several times a day but typically not before then, especially on Mondays, when all of IT has brief a weekly rundown at 10AM.

        So people will probably be able to sneak in a few more $60 free shipping orders on Monday morning.

  • Free shipping is nice but don’t put yourself out of business - it is not that big a deal.

  • I’m not surprised, nor upset, about this change to free shipping, though I may think about sending in an order before it goes up. (Thanks for the warning, BTW!) FWIW, Adafruit’s level is $200 (my order to them last week came to $200.25), so $75 is a bit low in comparison. I’ll also point out that I pay shipping on every order from DigiKey or Mouser.

    What does get my (proverbial) goat, though, is the gradual changes to the UPS/FedEx model: they’re very much skewed towards the huge guys like Amazon, where the shipping is in huge amounts, but Amazon’s cost to ship an individual order is small. But if an individual goes down to the nearest UPS or FedEx store with a package of the same size and weight, we get ripped off. I’ve had UPS want more than $20 for ground to send a package smaller and lighter than my typical SF order. FedEx was even higher. (I ended up using “flat rate Priority” from USPS, and they even provided the box.) I should also mention that although the likes of Amazon, L.L.Bean, and HSN are the most visible to the consumer, there are also large volume “industrial” shippers that then to use the “early delivery” options – such as companies that make surgical implants, and also industrial maintenance (having a $2million dollar machine down for want of a $12k part makes $200 to ship said part look trivial – though there’s also something called “counter-to-counter” where the shipper takes the package to the airport, and it goes on the “next flight going” [if you’ve ever seen those “NFG” stickers, that’s what it means], and the receiving party goes down to the airport to pick it up – a hassle, but if not having the package is costing you $2000 per hour, it’s worth while). What it boils down to is that the little guys are subsidizing the “800 pound gorillas”.

    Anyway, I trust that you guys at SF have discussed this with your UPS sales rep! (And thanks again for even having free shipping.)

  • Does this apply to Arduino Day orders that aren’t fulfilled until after May 12th? Or only new orders placed after the 12th?

    • Only new orders will be affected. Rules on shipping costs are applied when an order is placed, not when it ships.

  • “It turns out that it’s actually not sustainable to send 20 big stepper motors from Colorado to Australia for free. Hmmmm.”

    Yeah that makes sense. I suppose you could put a weight limit vs item cost in there. IE: For orders up to X dollars you can get Y lbs of items shipped free, Buyer pays for the overage. That’s only fair.

    • that is certainly the way we want to play it… a fair and balanced (sorry for that phrasing, i just made myself ill) approach for items that are too heavy… in the end we over simplified the process - at this time - to keep it simple… for now.

  • Just curiosity: How much maths around “order shifting” played into the $75 price point?

    I personally have just held off and always ordered $60 at a time since that announcement was made. I wonder how many other folks have done the same and will just adjust the “personal minimum order” level to $75 instead. It’d be interesting to see a before and after snapshot of average sale amount or something.

    Keep up the great work, and thanks for not killing the free shipping program entirely: The uber-Dutch of us really appreciate it!

    • its interesting, generally speaking when someone pushes their order up a bit to reach the threshold that up-sell kind of pays for the free shipping for that order… the truth of the switch to $75 is that fewer orders will have a free shipping option, so it costs us less. but for those who stack their cart just a bit, we both win. so, for us, its less about getting an order to reach up to the 75 level, but rather, having fewer orders actually have a free shipping option… which is sad, because we want free shipping as an option to be MORE available. damn you maths!

      • This is what actually screwed me on the last Dumpster Dive. I had everything queued up with a few items to piggyback on the order. The DD orders opened up, I placed mine and was told that if I added $X I’d get free shipping. So, with the stuff safely in my cart, I added $X worth of stuff, got to the checkout and was told that even though the stuff was in my cart it was now out of stock. Thanks to the free shipping threshold suggestion, I lost the main thing I had come to buy. And now, my order was below the free shipping threshold and I had to pay shipping anyway.

        I got totally disgusted and abandoned the entire order and haven’t ordered anything from SF since. That’s what a free shipping threshold does for you. It seems to me that either everything free or nothing free is better than a threshold.

        The only way that a threshold would do any good is if it was for orders below a certain value. That way customers wouldn’t be in a situation of having the shipping cost triple the price of the component.

      • This is where some clever web programming can make the difference. So after adding, $60 ( pull a number out your arse ) , a popup comes us saying, “shipping cost to your location is $9 , why not add another $15 of items and get free shipping”, and present some high margin items, such as, I’m assuming, a couple of pro mini’s.

        The trick is to make sure that the profit on the additional items that are ordered is at least equal to the cost of shipping. That way the top line ( revenue ) is increased with no net effect on bottom line.

        That point, $45, $55 etc whatever it is, is the point at which the site needs to start persuading the customer to buy more. Most people, me included, when faced with the math, think, spend $68 and get $59 worth of items, or spend $75 and get $75 of items. The CBA falls in favour of spending a higher total, and spend $75.

        And whoever ordered those steppers in AUS was laughing their arse off !

        • The clever thing to do would be to search the customer’s wishlists (or viewing history, if available) for items to suggest. Depending on my mindset at the time, it could be helpful or creepy to point out “Adding a CRT power supply and a bolt glove to your order would make it eligible for free shipping.”

          • We actually don’t track viewing history right now. It’s come up, and I don’t think it would be an intrinsically creepy thing to keep a “products viewed” table for logged in users, since it could offer some utility. It does feels like one of those things where you’d have to be careful not to do creepy stuff with the data, and let people manage/delete their own viewing history.

            I’d welcome any thoughts on that one.

            Anyway, all that said, there is a lot of cleverness we’re going to avoid, because we’ve gradually learned that cleverness gets us in trouble. Cleverness is often, I dunno quite how to put this… Complexity waiting to collapse into entropy as soon as you turn your back on it.

        • Beginning to sound like Amazon.com

  • gary / last year / 1

    What about making it more complex: free shipping if the shipping cost is less than xx% of the order.

    • We debated several different ways to amend the program, including something like this. These debates aren’t new either - they were happening in force back in September/October 2013 in the run-up to the launch of the long-term free shipping program.

      Ultimately it comes down to two things: 1) can we afford it and 2) can customers understand it. The problem with a shipping cost percentage threshold is it’s complicated and unpredictable.The value of a free shipping program, for the customer, is not just getting stuff shipped for free but not having to even think about shipping. In order to get the latter the rules of the program have to be dead simple, and shipping costs are simply not that simple. This is an appropriate place to cite the KISS principle

    • We certainly got all math-y and dissected the program 10 different ways… complex approaches did yield some interesting results, but as Frencil notes, keeping it simple prevailed.