Offering free shipping in emails is a tactic which is increasingly used in marketing and rightly so, as in can result in higher transaction rates, according to a new study.

A US focused report (pdf) by Experian CheetahMail has looked at the trends and offers tips on using this offer effectively. Here are a few key takeaways from the study, as well as some useful observations on search trends... 

It seems to work

According to the study, 70% of its clients found that transaction rates of free shipping emails were higher than those without such an offer, while 47% experienced higher average order values.  

The study also found that free shipping worked best for the consumer products and multichannel retailers:

Experian CheetahMail chart

Choose the right products

The effectiveness of these emails depends on offering free delivery alongside products they would actually be interested in. Using the information you have about customers and their purchase histories will give you a better chance of success.

Provide offers for a limited period

Having free shipping available all the time, or for long periods can dilute its effectiveness, at least from an email marketing perspective, as it is a proven sales driver for e-commerce sites.

The report recommends offering free delivery for one week or less to create a sense of urgency in customers' minds.

You don't have to keep spending thresholds low

The study found that business that required spending of less than $60 didn't attract the same uplifts in click rates and transactions, so you don't have to keep the minimum spend low for these emails to be effective.

Combine with sales

Emails that offered free delivery alongside other discounts performed well, and helped make clearances more effective.

Customer demand for free shipping

Hitwise's Bill Tancer also picked up on an interesting aspect of the survey, which was the trends in user's search behaviour. The trend in searches for free shipping and free delivery is something we have looked at before, and it can be a useful tactic for etailers.

Bill makes a couple of interesting observations:

  • People are searching for 'free shipping' earlier in the Christmas shopping season, and for longer. Searches for free shipping began to rise in October last year, and actually peaked in the first week of January.

    Indeed, if you look at Google Trends for the equivalent UK search term 'free delivery', then a similar pattern can be seen. Searches rise earlier, the peaks last longer, and the volume of searches has increased year on year:

Google Trends searches for free delivery

  • According to Bill Tancer, Hitwise's own stats show that the most common related search terms combine the phrase 'free shipping' with brand names, as well as the word 'code', a potentially useful insight for retailers.
Graham Charlton

Published 17 September, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (2)



Interesting insight.

Free shipping may work to increase flow and perhaps offer a higher basket value, but one must consider the profit per order. Is there a loss of profit per order because of the free shipping? This must be taken into consideration.

almost 9 years ago


Janaki Pendyala

It has been our experience for the past 2 years to offer exclusive deals to registered users and it works well. We get 15 to 20% of our orders from email promotion ONLY. BTW, our client is an electronic gadget eretailer.


almost 9 years ago

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