This week I’m going to cover a subject that always seems to cause some indecision for eBay sellers!

There is something about the word ‘free’ that we are all very attracted to. In the supermarket, ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deals are lurking around every corner daring you to walk on by without being tempted – it’s no wonder we end up buying things we don’t actually want or need.

How many times have you left the supermarket with two huge packets of some weird and wonderful product that you have never bought before, never will again and that you know you’ll never manage to eat before the best before date even if you have a huge family of 12, and that will invariably end up in the bin?

But it was free – and that’s why you can’t resist!

Promises of free samples lure us into shops where we end up either signing up for something we don’t want or spending more than we intended and the promise of free calls and texts lure us into changing mobile phone providers, signing ridiculous contracts that last for 20 years and generally wishing we were able to ignore that simple – but obviously very effective – four letter word when it comes to being drawn in to things.

Fast & Free

So, talking about all things free, eBay has recently launched its brand new ‘Fast & Free’ programme in the UK. Those two little words: ‘fast’ and ‘free’, are generally what drives shoppers into a frenzy!

If you’ve been selling online for a while, particularly on eBay, you’ll be aware that lots of customers want their orders delivered yesterday by private jet and so it’s no wonder that fast and free delivery is becoming more and more important to online shoppers. I have to admit that I am guilty of this too – I see it, I buy it… I want it NOW! Quick is just not quick enough!

You may already have seen the new ‘Fast & Free’ logo on some eBay listings. It looks like this and is automatically displayed on a listing whenever the criteria for offering Fast & Free are met by a seller.

So, as you can see, it’s really easy to identify the listings where a seller is offering free postage and an estimated delivery time in the UK (excluding the Scilly, Shetland and Hebrides islands) of 3 working days or less, by this logo which sits at the top of the page along with the price and the other important information.

Now, in case you haven’t noticed, ‘fast’ and ‘free’ are both actually extremely powerful words. And so the question is this. Can you take advantage of this by offering Fast & Free postage on your eBay listings? Could this make the difference between your buyers purchasing products from you or from one of your competitors?

Unfortunately, it’s not a simple case of yes or no though. For a start it’s important not to forget the costs actually involved in the shipping of your items to your customers.

Not only do you need to pay for materials to wrap items in appropriately and the postage itself, but you must also consider the time that it takes you to do the wrapping and even the time it takes to make your trip to the post office. Time is, as they say, money and the longer you spend posting and packing and not making any money from it, the less time you have to source new products and create new listings.

Looking at your costs, you may think that it is impossible to offer free postage on your items without eating in to your profits, but the benefits of offering Fast & Free delivery can’t be denied simply because much of it comes down to psychology and the fact that ‘Fast & Free is always going to be extremely appealing to potential customers.

This psychological aspect could help your sales

As I have already mentioned, the word ‘free’ itself can be a massive selling point that will easily attract the attention of prospective buyers. In fact, you may find that some people are prepared to pay more for your products than from a different seller, just because of the lure of something free. So, firstly it is worth considering marking your product prices up by an extra pound or two to allow you to cover the cost of postage within. After all, we all know that really, ‘free’ stuff is actually ‘paid for’ stuff somewhere along the line; it’s just that our brains don’t look at it like that!

So, just to clarify this – free postage is, psychologically speaking, an excellent idea but it can cost you a little bit of profit. Free postage will potentially increase your sales but lower your profit per item. So this is why you get those moments of indecision. Free postage is a bit of a mixed bag it seems!

The most important thing to remember is simply to keep common sense in mind when planning your postage strategy. You may be able to easily afford to offer the compulsory free postage on a CD or DVD, but not on larger items. Please don’t offer to post products for free if it will cost you lots of money, because the benefits are just not worth it, but if you can afford it amidst your profit margin then do!

Keeping your postage costs down is one definitive method that will help you to offer free, or at least cheap, postage. So on this theme, I thought I would take you through my quick six step strategy to lowering your delivery costs overall.

Step one – Know your delivery charges

Don’t just guess! If you know how much it will actually cost you to post a certain item then you will have a better idea as to whether you can offer Fast & Free postage. Keep a set of scales beside your computer and physically weigh your items at home before you take them to the post office. You can then cross check this value with the Royal Mail website, or any other courier that you may choose to use, to ascertain the exact costs.

Step two – Recycle postage materials

Some packing materials can certainly be used more than once but please don’t send goods out in scruffy envelopes with old addresses scribbled out, or in carrier bags, bin liners and so on – it’s just not professional. You may be able to reuse some of the internal materials that the items were posted to you in (such as the bubble wrap), but do make sure they are presentable. If you don’t have any materials to recycle then look to source boxes, jiffy bags, envelopes and bubble wrap more cheaply by either buying in bulk or searching for deals online.

Step three – Combine items into one parcel

If you sell a range of different products, you can offer your buyers a reduced postage cost if they order more items from you. This is a great trick as it hooks buyers in to purchasing more than one item and as you can place items in the same box or envelope, this will cut your costs. You can set up postage discounts to calculate automatically when a buyer purchases more than one item so there is no work or difficult maths involved!

Step four – Set a regular time for the post office run

It might be tempting to take a trip to the post office the minute you make a sale, but by combining all of your sales into regular post office runs you will save on fuel and on the time that it takes to get there, queue up and get your items weighed and shipped.

If you have lots of orders then you can make a daily trip either in the morning or evening. Or you could choose to go every other day. If you are working full time and your eBay business is part-time then set aside a Saturday morning to take everything. If you do this though, make sure you state that you only post once a week on your listings so that buyers know roughly when to expect their purchase.

Step five – Consider purchasing online postage

Did you know that you can buy postage online? All you need is a printer, a set of scales and some labels and you can actually print your own postage via the Royal Mail website. It’s very simple to use. You will still need to take your items to the post office or sorting office but only to drop them off which means you will reduce your time spent queuing! Just click here to find out more

Step six – Don’t compromise on quality

Although it might be tempting to package goods to an inferior level of quality to save money you must always ensure that your items will get to the buyer safely. This is particularly important when posting anything breakable or squashable, but you should take care when wrapping all products as buyers like to receive nicely wrapped things and it all helps towards your positive feedback!

So, by lowering your postage expenses and carefully considering how much it will cost you to send each item, you may be able to afford to offer Fast & Free postage on your listings or at least test it to see whether it makes a big difference to your sales.

Remember, ‘FREE’ is a very viable and powerful method of attracting much needed attention to your listings and increasing your sales!