I’ve been suspiciously and uncharacteristically quite about all the eBay Free Shipping business. To recap, eBay is slowly offering discounts, promotions and other advantages for sellers that offer free shipping. With the exception of capping shipping costs in the Media category, thus far, eBay US has been rewarding sellers who offer free shipping instead of punishing those that do not but with recently rules on eBay UK that require free shipping on all DVDs sold on the site, other sellers cannot help but be nervous that required free shipping is the future of the site.

eBay claims that they are doing this in response to a buyer survey that stated that they wanted free shipping. Sellers claim that eBay is doing this to make more on fees since shipping costs are not eligible for end of auction fees. Me? I’m pretty sure the truth is a combination of both of those.

Not to date myself, but how many of you remember when they first introduced Buy It Now? This was back before Fixed Price existed. I don’t have any hard data on this but I know from my experience buying back then that nearly every seller who was offering Buy It Now prices on their items were offering it with the promise of free shipping. “Buy It Now and get free shipping!” they all said in those days. Now this has evolved and changed over the years and as Fixed Price came along the Buy It Now became more of a wishful thinking price then a free shipping offer.

To me, though, free shipping and fixed price have always been synonymous. We mostly sell auctions but when we do a fixed price item, especially something we have a lot of, we almost always set it up with free shipping. To me, this has always just made sense. We were setting the price so, conversely, we might as well figure the shipping costs in as well. We used to do this as the start of fixed price and brought this back full force this past year with the new free shipping promotions eBay offered. My only real issue with free shipping for fixed price items is that it’s unfair to international buyers but more on that tomorrow.

That said, I don’t hate free shipping but even if I don’t mind it, I still don’t want to be told that I have to offer it.

As for shipping caps, there are some out of control shipping costs on eBay. When you charge me $10 to ship a hot wheels car, there is a problem there, especially when it arrives with a 60 cent postage marker on it. I really wish that eBay would just give preference to people using calculated shipping and introduce complete transparency with handling fees. I would rather eBay posted “This seller only charges actual shipping with a $1 handling fee” on my item or “this seller charges actual shipping with a $9.40 handling fee” so I knew as a buyer exactly what kind of deal I was getting. I also thing this would really help with DSRs so that people would know that the only part of the cost of shipping that we set is that handling fee.

But, just like with free shipping, while I would like eBay to call out the over-chargers who give us all a bad name, I still am against shipping caps.

I may not agree with your shipping costs but I will defend to the death your right to charge them!

Now auctions are a totally different animal. I see no way eBay could ever force free shipping on auctions and survive. With an auction, you have no idea how much the item is going to sell for so you don’t have the luxury of working the shipping costs into the price and if you had to work the cost of shipping into the price then it would kill the auction format once and for all. The success of auctions has always been starting the opening bid as low as possible and letting fair market value take over. If we had to start the auction price at the highest possible shipping costs (say, the cost to ship something international), nothing would ever get bid on. My hope is that even with all the stupidity around lately, even they wouldn’t do anything this dumb but, who knows?

But as long as they don’t make it mandatory, I am just fine with the advantages for sellers offering free shipping as long as they keep a reward instead of punish methodology. However, if free shipping is here to stay, eBay needs to make a few changes to make it easier for sellers to offer free shipping.

I know people have some pretty strong feelings on this so please weight in below. I have some more to say on this topic tomorrow so tune-back then for part 2.