A heavy argument to increase customer trust online

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While shipping and handling (S&H) charges have dissuaded 63% of consumers from completing online purchases, nearly half (45%) of retailers say they are losing money on S&H costs.

New research by Jupiter Media Metrix reveals that companies must gain their customers’ trust regarding S&H charges because the majority of consumers are looking at these costs before making purchases.

To minimize both customers’ distrust and merchants’ risk, analysts advise retailers to view S&H charges as a break-even proposition and to base S&H charges on the weight of packages, not on order size.

“Consumers are wiser to the true costs of shipping than retailers think,” said Ken Cassar, Jupiter senior analyst. “Consumers who have mailed packages via UPS, the USPS, or some other shipper, are well aware of the fact that shipping costs are driven by weight, rather than by the value of the package.

“Online retailers must begin basing their shipping charges on weight and distance because that is what customers are familiar with. Retailers that believe that they’re simplifying matters for their customers by charging based on the dollar size of an order or on the number of items in the order are making a mistake that may undermine the relationship that they’re trying to build.”

Key findings and forward-looking analysis from the Jupiter retail infrastructure research include:

• 46% of consumers intuitively believe that shipping costs should be based on the weight of packages, while only 10% believe that price and order size should drive S&H costs. A Jupiter WebTrack survey of the top 50 Media Metrix online retailers, however, reveals that 54% of retailers base shipping costs on order size, while only 30% base costs on weight.

• Companies that charge on any basis other than weight risk either losing money or robbing their customers.
For example, Pets.com went out of business because it subsidized the high costs of shipping pet food. On the other hand, CDNow – which charges $2.99 in S&H for the first CD and 99 cents for every additional CD – as a company that has used a dangerous per-item based pricing model. A purchase of 200 copies of Journey’s Greatest Hits would cost a customer $200 in S&H, while CDNow would only incur about $28 in shipping cost.

• 73% of consumers evaluate the total price of products, including S&H, before making an online purchase. Companies that are profiting on S&H run the risk of increasing distrust among consumers.

“Across online retail and catalog, there is an even split between retailers that make money on S&H and those that lose money on S&H. As profitability becomes increasingly important, it is perfectly understandable that retailers would seek new sources of profit, including S&H charges,” Cassar said. “However, the long-term interest of the retailer is best served if its customers trust it. The latest Jupiter research shows that S&H is not perceived as a product—but as a necessary evil.”

About Jupiter Media Metrix
JMM delivers Internet measurement, analysis, intelligence and events to provide resources for understanding the Internet. The company is headquartered in New York City and operates worldwide, across the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe (as Jupiter MMXI Europe), and the Middle East.

Jupiter Media Metrix

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