Just Like There Is NO Free Lunch, There is NO Free Shipping!

Paul Downs is right, There is No Free Shipping. (In fact, the Free Shipping Amazon Prime service is so profitable that Amazon is planning to raise their prices and profit off of their best customers even more!)

Even though shipping is no where near as complicated and human intensive and error-ridden as it used to be (provided someone scans the damn code, reads the response, and loads the item into the designated truck), it’s still costly, and will always be because:

  • Every form of transportation requires a vehicle*
    and all vehicles have acquisition and maintenance costs.
  • Every vehicle requires some form of power
    and all forms of power have a cost, even if they are based on renewable resources (as someone has to build and maintain the windmill). So, even if your item can be shipped locally on a hybrid powered by renewable energy, the cost will not go to 0.
  • Every vehicle requires an operator
    even if that operator is the programmer maintaining the system controlling the drone, and operators need to be paid.

This assumes you are shipping a normal, everyday item that is typically ordered from an online merchant and for which packaging and shipping has been optimized.

This doesn’t account for the situation where you are ordering a fragile item, which may need extra, and/or special, packaging, an oversized item, which can’t just be tossed in the mail or picked up in a normal UPS or FedEX delivery, or a very heavy item, like the custom-made conference tables that poor Mr. Downs had to ship across the country at a time where piece-shipping was even more of a pain the backside than it is now. In each of these cases there are extra costs in packaging, handling, pick-up, and delivery (as some items will require LTL freight through a local or national carrier).

In other words, shipping is expensive and anyone giving you free shipping is including it in the price, probably at a padded mark-up. So don’t fret the shipping, fret the total cost of the purchase relative to the value received. Sometimes if you shop around you can get a better product at a lower overall price, shipping included. (Going back to Amazon, it’s amazing how much some of the third party merchants that use Amazon’s Prime Shipping mark up their merchandise to cover the shipping costs. the doctor has seen $40 to $60 small items that ship for a few dollars almost double the MSRP, some of which even ship for free at half the price on other sites, because the online retailers are still making a profit if they can get someone to pay MSRP.)

So when you are buying a commodity or a consumable, whether for personal or business use, always look at the TCO. It’s often the case that a supplier who breaks out shipping is attempting to keep costs low across the board for both parties. That’s the type of supplier you want to deal with.

* Since we are talking about shipping and anything that can be walked down the street by a human is not considered shipping for Procurement and Logistics purposes.